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The Paper Hearts Killer

Chapter Text

 

Sergeant Carl Horvath scraped his muddy boot against the side of a large, fallen tree branch in a vain attempt to remove what had accumulated there so far; he had only been standing on the forlorn, wind-swept hillside for only a half-hour or so, but after the several days of rain the Pittsburgh area had received, the normally grassy terrain had turned to rivulets of brown, ugly streams of runoff instead. 

 

 

 

The overcast, gray sky above him matched the somber mood of both him and his trio of subordinates as they observed the body of yet another small child that had been unceremoniously dumped at the bottom of the ravine below.  Even from several yards away, though, he could tell; it was the same M.O., the same pose, the same method of disposal, and no doubt the same, fucking monster that had killed the other previous six children.

 

 

 

He cursed under his breath; he had been a policeman now for over twenty-five years, and he thought he had reached the point where nothing fazed him.  He had learned long ago that injecting emotions into a situation, no matter how awful or painful, was simply counterproductive and sometimes got in the way of results.  But this time was different – this time there were innocent children involved, and he simply couldn’t let it go. 

 

 

 

The first killing had occurred approximately six weeks ago, and he had tried to put it out of his mind when he went home to his wife, Debbie, but he found that he just couldn’t do it.  It kept him awake at night as he lay in bed and replayed the scant evidence they had over and over again in his mind.  He analyzed every small bit of a clue at work, trying frantically to zoom in on that one piece of previously overlooked evidence that might provide the break in the case they all so desperately wanted.  Normally a voracious eater of his wife’s fantastic cooking, he now merely picked at his food as he sat at the dinner table, heartsick over what was happening in his own hometown. Try as much as he could, then, it was no use this time; he and his other brothers on the force just couldn’t be objective when it came to this particular case.  Perhaps it had to do, also, with the taunts and whispers of arrogance the killer seemed to take pleasure in leaving; he or she made sure, however, that it provided nothing substantial to go on.

 

 

 

He sighed in frustration; it was almost as if the fucker knew just what to do – or NOT to do – to get them riled up and mad as hell, and the person probably was deriving great pleasure in doing it, too.

 

 

 

He watched intently as the department photographer snapped several shots of the body at different angles for evidence before the zippered bag was closed.  He rubbed his hand over his face, unable to hide the distress in his expression, as one of the detectives walked up to him from the crime scene.

 

 

 

“Same fucker, isn’t it?” he asked the tall, handsome detective approaching him.

 

 

 

“Yeah, sure looks that way to me,” Brian told him.  Brian Kinney had been a raw recruit fresh out of the Pittsburgh Police Academy approximately ten years ago when he had fallen under the command of a skeptical captain by the name of Carl Horvath.  At first, Carl hadn’t liked the brash, cocky brunet; to his consternation, Brian had quickly and regularly fallen into the habit of never following the rules, or at the very least, finding ways to skirt around them.  But eventually, Carl had noticed he got results no matter how unorthodox his methods were.  For that reason, he learned to look the other way slightly when he knew the young police lieutenant cut corners at times, especially when it involved thugs that deserved to never see the light of day again, and he had grudgingly come to respect the determined, resolute demeanor of his newest rookie. 

 

 

 

About two years ago, a detective position had opened up under his command due to a retirement, and almost on a whim, he had decided to offer it to Kinney to see if he could handle it.  The man’s out-of-the-box approach seemed ideal for the role of a police detective, and the man hadn’t disappointed him.  He had quickly proven to be a skilled, obstinate, crack investigator who solved practically every case thrown at him no matter how difficult.  But as he noticed the frustrated look on the handsome man’s face, he had a feeling that this one was going to prove to be a lot harder to solve. 

 

 

 

Carl glanced over at the body bag being hefted up the slippery hillside and shook his head.  “That’s the seventh one,” he said.  “All boys.  All innocent children just starting out in life.  What kind of sicko pervert does something like that?”

 

 

 

“Someone who isn’t human,” Brian spat out.  This case was haunting him, too, because it hit far too close to home.  His son, Gus, was now six years old, pretty much the same age as the boys who had been murdered.  Every time he spoke to his son on the phone, or saw him in person for their regular visitation, he couldn’t help thinking that it could have been his son lying at the bottom of one of the ravines the monster seemed to prefer for his dumping ground.  He shuddered slightly merely at the thought.

 

 

 

“Yeah, it’s a fucking raw day out today,” Carl commented, misinterpreting his action.  He snorted.  “Spring….yeah, it’s a lovely spring morning, all right – everywhere around.”  He let out an angry breath. 

 

“I don’t envy the police chaplain having to tell the next set of parents that their son has just been found murdered.”

 

 

 

Brian shook his head mutely in agreement, unable for a second to speak as he thought once more about his only son, the boy he never in his wildest dreams thought he would love as deeply as he did.  When his friend Lindsey had asked him to be a sperm donor for her, that was all he had intended to be – a means to an end.  He hadn’t anticipated falling in love, though, with the doe-eyed, dark-haired little boy with the perpetually-pink, rosy cheeks and a smile that would light up the room.  Only when he was with Gus did he seem truly happy.  The boy’s innocence and unconditional love for him was what made this particular case so difficult.  But it also made his determination to solve it that much more intense, and he wouldn’t rest until he had found the fucker who was doing it.

 

 

 

“Did the boys find anything helpful down there?” Carl asked with anticipation.  His hopes faded, though, at the discouraged, downcast look on Brian’s face.  “I didn’t think so,” he muttered honestly.

 

 

 

Brian shook his head.  “No, once more he only left his calling card and no prints anywhere,” he growled.  He held out a plastic bag toward his boss and Carl pursed his lips tightly together in response.  There was no doubt now that it was the same person.  From the very beginning, the killer had been meticulous about never leaving so much as a palm print at the scene of the crime.  Even his footprints were somehow undecipherable.  Brian had a theory that the man actually wore some type of cover over the bottom of his shoes to prevent brand identification; there were never any actual, distinguishable foot or shoe prints; merely a smooth surface as if he or she had been gliding on glass.  But the perpetrator never failed to leave one mysterious, inexplicable clue that the police department held as a closely-guarded secret: a paper heart attached by a safety pin to the clothed chest of each victim. 

 

 

 

He took the proffered piece of bagged evidence from the younger man and shook his head.  “One of the boys already told me there’s no discernible tire tracks around, either; the body was apparently placed there several days ago before all this rain.  Even if there had been other evidence, everything would have been fucking washed away by now.” 

 

 

 

Brian stood there in his long, black raincoat; the misting rain had long ago turned his hair wet and unkempt in the windy, forlorn morning.  He stuffed his hands into his pockets in an attempt to ward off the chill as he eyed his boss intently.  “I want this fucker, Sarge….I want him bad.”

 

 

 

Carl nodded sadly.  “Join the club, son.  Join the club. We all do.” 

 

 

 

-------------------------------------

 

Same Time

 

Startled, Daphne’s eyes flew open out of a deep slumber at the familiar sound coming from the next bedroom.  Not again, she couldn’t help thinking as she sighed and quickly rose from her bed.  Even though this had probably been the third time this past month she had been awakened in the same manner, she still couldn’t help the pang of sympathy that arose from inside because she knew exactly what was going on.

 

 

 

Sure enough, as she exited her bedroom she immediately noticed the soft light protruding from under the adjacent door.  Quietly turning the knob, she peered in to find her roommate sitting up in bed, his sketchpad grasped in one hand while his other frantically flew across the paper almost as if he were in a trance.  She knew enough by now not to interrupt him, realizing how important it was to him that he get it all down while it was still fresh in his mind.

 

 

 

Finally, after a couple of minutes, the slender hand stilled and he looked up to notice her; the expression on his face was as if he was just now realizing she had entered the room; perhaps he was. 

 

 

 

She slowly walked further into the room and perched softly on the side of the bed.  She instantly noticed her friend’s sweaty brow and flushed complexion; the tears that had fallen down his face during his latest vision were still evident on his cheeks.  “You had another dream, didn’t you?” she whispered sympathetically. 

 

 

 

Justin nodded.  “Yeah,” he said, letting out a ragged breath.  “This was the worst one yet.”

 

 

 

Daphne noticed her friend’s hand was obscuring most of the charcoal sketch he had hurriedly composed a few minutes ago; she was dying to know what he had drawn but held back for now.  “Was it the same type as before?” she asked curiously.  She knew Justin drew sketches of each vision he had, but for some reason he had refused to show any of them to her lately.  He had merely told her they were too horrible to share and he didn’t want to upset her, too. 

 

 

 

Justin swallowed. “Yeah,” he verified, “only worse.”  He closed his eyes as the scene played out in his mind again; it was the same, horrific, heart-wrenching picture he had seen over and over again for the past six weeks.  Daphne had only been privy to three of the episodes because Justin hadn’t told her that he sometimes experienced the same type of vision during the day when she wasn’t around.  It wasn’t only at night when the terrifying scenes played out; sometimes they would flash inside his head suddenly when he was least expecting them in the daytime, too.  That was perhaps the worst part of all; even if he tried to stay awake to avoid thinking about them, he would still find himself haunted by them while he was awake, too.  It was as if the little victims were crying out for him to help and he didn’t know how.

 

 

 

Justin had known since he was a child that he had the ‘gift,’ as his maternal grandmother liked to call it.  Well, he preferred to call it a curse rather than a blessing, because all his psychic ability had done at times was make him sad. Because it wasn’t the happy things he seemed to envision – it was always the heartbreaking episodes, whether it was a relative about to die, someone cheating on their spouse, or a beloved teacher contracting a terminal illness.  He never seemed to have these visions when it was something pleasant to anticipate, and he never knew when he would get them.  He only knew that periodically throughout his life, he would get these times where the visions would flash inside his head and he would have to hurriedly sketch what he saw in his mind’s eye.  It wasn’t exactly that he wanted to remember…..but more accurately, he was afraid NOT to.  He was afraid that one day he would forget what he had seen and it would be an occasion where somehow he might have been able to help stop it from happening. 

 

 

 

So far, he had had these series of visions perhaps nine or ten times in his life; they would always start with nightmares – vivid kinds of plays being performed inside his head – and they would last for varying periods until he discovered somehow that the dreaded vision had come true once again.  Each time it filled him with frustration and despair that he couldn’t prevent it.  But he somehow found a solace in recording what he had seen in his head down on paper in hopes that one day there would be that one time when he could help someone from fulfilling their awful destiny. 

 

 

 

This one, though, was different; it involved a monster who was preying on innocent children.  “Daphne,” he whispered painfully as he opened his eyes.  “I think I need to go to the police and talk to them about this.”

 

 

 

Daphne’s eyes widened as her mouth gaped open.  “The police?  Why?”  She tried to glance down quickly at the sketchbook Justin was clutching in his hand, but he just tightened his grip even more on it.

 

 

 

He stared into the concerned, chocolate-brown eyes of his friend for a few seconds in silent debate with himself before slowly turning the sketchbook around so she could finally see what he had drawn.  “Because of this,” he whispered as he removed his hand for her to take a look.

 

 

 

Her face contorted in pain as she took one look at the drawing and gasped at the horrid images.  “My God, Justin…..What do you think this means?”

 

 

 

Justin bit his lip.  “It means someone’s killing little boys….and I have to try and help find him.”

 

Chapter Text

Same Day – Mid-Afternoon

 

Sanctuary of Rest Cemetery – Outskirts of Pittsburgh

 

The same dreary-looking weather that had permeated the morning persisted into the afternoon as the two men stood several yards away from the gravesite, trying to keep a wary but respectful distance from the mourners.  A tiny, white casket with burgundy and white roses lay on top of the delicately curved lid as a minister read from his Bible; soft weeping could be heard from a young woman wearing sunglasses with long, blonde hair who stood near the casket, touching the polished surface with her hand as a man, presumably her husband, stood behind her, holding her arms in support.

 

Brian watched the entire scene with a watchful eye, scanning the mourners for any hint of peculiarity or oddness.  He studied each person standing at the gravesite intently, hoping somehow that one person would stick out and point him toward the killer’s identity.

 

Carl rubbed his gloved hands together to try and keep warm as he glanced over at his newest detective.  He knew this case was hitting much too close to home for Kinney, who had a six-year-old son that he doted on.  He had actually met the little boy who was the spitting image of his father at the annual police picnic last year, and he had observed how different the typically cynical detective was around his son.  There was a distinct tenderness there, a deep bond that Brian didn’t reveal to anyone else.  And the little boy, Gus, clearly adored his father as the two had played horseshoes together and tossed a Frisbee around on the park’s grounds.  It was obvious that the man loved his child deeply, and that was undoubtedly why this case was hitting him so hard.  He wasn’t the only one, though; Carl wanted desperately to catch the monster just as much as Brian did, but he was at a loss as to how to do that. 

 

He sighed as he looked over at Brian.  “I don’t see anything out of the ordinary, do you?”

 

Brian slowly shook his head.  “No….I don’t recognize any of them from any of the other funerals, and they all look legitimate to me.”  He jammed his hands into his overcoat pockets in an attempt to ward off the damp chill in the air.  It helped to warm his hands up, but it didn’t do anything to warm his heart or quell his increasing frustration over their inability to find the person responsible for killing so many victims with total impunity.

 

“We can always go over the evidence one more time,” Brian suggested, even though somehow he already knew it would be a wasted effort.  Whoever this person was, he or she was extremely intelligent.  The killer would have to be to evade their relentless pursuit of him or her for the past six weeks.

 

Carl sighed.  “No…..what we need is a new angle to investigate or for this psychopath to get sloppy.  Until he or she does, I don’t think we stand a snowball’s chance in hell of finding them.”

 

“I really don’t think this is a female, Carl,” Brian replied as he continued to watch the funeral service closely, still hoping to see something out of place.  “Call it a stereotype if you want, but no woman would do this to all these kids.”   

 

Carl silently had to agree with him – Brian had proven during the past year to have excellent instincts – but until they knew for sure he had to try and keep an open mind.  Statistically speaking, women serial killers, especially toward children, were rare, and when they did kill, invariably they had some sort of personal connection to the victim. 

“Well, I don’t think we’re going to find out anything useful here,” Carl decided as he noticed the service about to wrap up.  The minister had finished speaking and each mourner was placing a long-stemmed rose on top of the casket to join the spray already there.  He shook his head as the woman who was apparently the boy’s mother came close to collapsing while the same man reached to hold her up; her shoulders were shaking as she began to cry inconsolably. 

 

“Fucking monster,” he spat out in contempt; they had just discovered the newest body of yet another child this morning, and the sixth victim hadn’t even been buried yet.  “Let’s go,” he told Brian as together the two men slowly trudged back to  Carl’s unmarked, black police sedan for the drive back to the station.  “Maybe forensics has found something by now.” 

 

 

 

 

One Hour Later

 

Justin glanced up anxiously at the imposing brick building housing the 17th Precinct of the Pittsburgh Police Department, his portfolio tucked securely under his arm.  His palms were sweating with the thought of what he was about to do.  He was just like everyone else – the thought of visiting the police made him extremely nervous, even though he had nothing to hide.  He supposed it was just a normal reaction, but all the same, he wasn’t looking forward to speaking with the police about the dreams he’d been having.  Except for his family and Daphne, who he had come to regard as almost a sister due to their close friendship, he had never confided in anyone else about his extraordinary ‘talent.’  Now he would have to reveal the secret he kept so closely guarded to the police in hopes he could prevent any more children from being hurt.

 

The dream last night had been the most vivid one of all; up until then, all the other visions had been mere shadows of something sinister, something evil.  They had been hauntingly vague, just out of his grasp of comprehension.  He could hear what sounded like young childlike voices crying for help and a man – a man with a deep gravelly voice filled with hatred and anger telling each person to be quiet and ‘go back to sleep.’  He could never see the man’s face, or the faces of his victims to confirm their age, but somehow he knew they were children; and he also knew they were terrified.  He shivered at the most recent vision, so startling clear in his mind even now. 

 

If only he had realized before just what he was seeing in his mind’s eye.  It wasn’t that he hadn’t heard about the elusive serial murderer who had been terrorizing the greater Pittsburgh area for the past six weeks; he had heard about it on the news lately and it was a frequent topic of discussion at any restaurant or coffee shop he patronized.  But until last night, he did not realize his visions were connected to them.  Now, though, there could be no doubt that they were related and it filled him with guilt to think that had he known, he might have been able to prevent some more of them. 

That was what had bolstered his courage to be at the police station now; he couldn’t stand by and watch helplessly as another innocent child became the next victim.  His hand curled around the end of the sketchbook almost painfully as he took a deep breath before slowly ascending the steps.

 

He swallowed the almost painful lump in his throat as he shuffled up to the imposing wooden desk where a muscular, uniformed policeman sat; the station was alive with the sounds of several voices speaking at once, the phones ringing, drawers banging shut, and computers typing. The policeman at the desk, who was looking down at some paperwork, took a few tense moments to acknowledge him before finally he raised one eyebrow and cast his steely eyes down at him in an almost superior leer.  “Yes?  Can I help you?” he asked curtly. 

 

Justin let out a breath and licked his lips as he bounced slightly on the balls of his feet.  “Uh….I need to talk to someone.”

 

“I guessed that,” the 50ish-looking man told him flatly, unable to fully disguise his impatience.  “What about?”

 

The artist bit his lip for a moment before he said in a barely audible voice, “About the murders.”

 

The policeman’s eyes widened slightly at that statement, noting the plural use of the word murder.  That could only be referring to one thing – the seven children who had been murdered in the past six weeks who were the focus of their most intense manhunt in a long time – but he had to make sure.  “Which ones?”

 

Justin let out a shaky breath, feeling the man’s curiosity boring into him.  “The children,” he whispered painfully as he once more remembered the sound of their cries and their fear.  “Please,” he pleaded.

 

The policeman’s heart began to beat a little faster at the confirmation; could this man really know something useful?  In the twenty-plus years he had been with the department, he had run into all kinds of kooks who actually craved some perverse sense of notoriety by confessing to crimes they didn’t commit; was this going to be one of those times?  This slender blond man peering up at him didn’t seem like that type, but if his experience of being on the force had taught him anything at all, it was that you could never judge a person by their appearance.   He did know from the briefings his boss had been giving out lately that they definitely needed a big break in the case; all the leads they had were going nowhere at the present time.

 

He nodded brusquely as he motioned with his head toward a bench situated on the other side of the room.  “Have a seat over there.  I’ll get a detective working the case to talk to you.”

 

Justin nodded as he turned and walked over to the indicated spot; the policeman noticed then that he was carrying some sort of flat satchel.  He wasn’t overly concerned with that fact, however; he knew the young man had to have entered through the metal detector just inside the doorway, so he realized he couldn’t be armed.  He was curious, though, as to just what he was carrying, but it wasn’t his job to find out; that would be up to either Kinney or the Sergeant to determine, along with just what type of information this waspish-looking blond wanted to disclose and how useful it would be. 

 

He continued to study the young man, though, who was nervously jiggling his legs as he sat on the bench, the satchel draped across his lap as he clutched it tightly.  Whatever was in the canvas pouch must be very important to him, he decided, as he lifted the phone and made a call to the backroom. 

 

He tried the chief detective assigned to the case, Brian Kinney, but when he received no response, he rang the Sergeant’s phone.

 

“Yeah, Gene?” Carl asked as he noticed the caller ID when he picked up.

 

“Sergeant, I tried to reach Detective Kinney, but I didn’t get any answer; there’s a blond kid up here at the front desk that just walked in out of the blue.  Says he needs to talk to someone about the child murders.”

 

“The child murders?” Carl repeated as he glanced over at Brian whose ears perked up in interest as he stared back at his boss.  “Kinney’s with me; we’ll be right out.” 

 

“What’s up?” Brian queried as Carl placed the receiver back in its cradle.

 

Carl clenched his jaw.  “Satterwhite up at the front desk says there’s some kid out in the lobby who wants to talk about the child murders.”

 

Brian arched his brow in curiosity as he stood up to join his boss.  “A fucking kid?  What would a kid know?”  He shook his head skeptically as Carl shrugged.

 

“Don’t have anything else to go on, though,” the sergeant replied.  The forensics team once again had been unable to come up with anything conclusive from the latest crime scene this morning.  He shrugged as he reached to retrieve his well-worn suit coat lying on the back of his chair and put it on.  “What the hell – let’s go see what he has to say.”

 

 

 

As the two men walked down the hallway from Carl’s office and out to the lobby, Satterwhite glanced up from his station and pointed over toward the opposite side of the room.

 

Brian glanced over to where the officer was pointing and saw a slender male with somewhat shaggy, golden-blond hair balancing some sort of flat object on his knees as he sat there clutching it firmly.  He was wearing a pair of faded blue jeans, worn-looking sneakers, and a light blue round-necked sweater.  As Brian studied their visitor, he decided that Satterwhite’s notion of what a kid was varied from his, because while this person was young, he was definitely a young man, not a kid.  As he and Carl walked over to approach him, the object of his scrutiny glanced up to meet his gaze and he was momentarily stunned by the unusual blue tint of his eyes; they seemed to stare deep inside him with a look of something resembling anguish as he and Carl walked up to stand in front of him.

 

Justin wiped his palms on his legs as he temporarily placed the portfolio down on the bench next to him and stood up to greet the two men.  One was older who appeared to be perhaps in his 60s with a lined, angular face and just a bit of hair left on his head; he was wearing a professional-looking, dark blue suit with a white shirt and navy and silver pinstriped tie that gave him a look of authority. 

 

The other man was younger, perhaps in his early 30s, tall and fit with brunet hair and piercing hazel eyes; he was staring at him so intently he made him partly uncomfortable.  The younger man was wearing a much more casual ensemble – he had on a dark brown leather jacket, dark blue jeans, and a black tailored shirt that was partially open at the neck, but there was still something forceful about him.  Justin glimpsed the brief silver flash of a policeman’s badge clipped to his trim waist through the unzipped jacket.

 

“I’m Sergeant Carl Horvath,” the older man told him as Justin nodded silently in acknowledgment.  “And this is Special Detective Brian Kinney.” 

 

Justin reached out to shake the older man’s hand and then turned to stare into the intense green eyes of the handsome detective scrutinizing him before he repeated the same action.  As their hands met, his eyes widened at the almost electric jolt that passed through his body; the hand was warm and firm as the detective grasped his hand for a few seconds before releasing it.  For some odd reason, Justin immediately felt something akin to a physical loss as the man let his hand go. 

 

“And you are?” Carl asked him.

 

Justin stole his glance away from the other man to address the Sergeant.  “Justin Taylor.”

 

Carl nodded.  “Lieutenant Satterwhite said you needed to talk to someone.”

 

Justin nodded nervously.  “Yes,” he whispered almost painfully.

 

As the stranger spoke to Carl, Brian’s training from the police academy took over as he studied the blond further.  The man was in his late teens to early twenties, with a petite body and slim, long-fingered hands.  His blue eyes and golden hair set off his pale complexion perfectly.  From his fidgety stance, it was obvious something was bothering him.  He certainly didn’t appear to be some kook or weirdo, though, like they sometimes got whenever a more sensationalized case was open.  So just what did this man want with them?  And what did he have to do with the case that had been uppermost in both his and Carl’s minds from the very beginning when the first murder had occurred?   He only hoped that whatever his purpose was, they weren’t just wasting their time; they had precious little of that at the moment when little boys were being murdered right and left, and he had no patience for crime groupies who tended to show up all too often with ‘helpful’ suggestions on how to solve a case….

 

Carl glanced around the bustling lobby; the hectic pace of the main room of the police precinct was a poor choice for any discussion regarding such a serious matter.  He told Justin, “Let’s go somewhere more private to talk.” 

 

Justin nodded as he scooped up the valuable portfolio with his sketchpad in it and followed the two men back down the rather antiseptic-looking hallway to a series of closed doors.  Carl walked over to the second one on the left and opened it to reveal a windowless room with cement walls and an overhead light swinging slightly over a long, laminate table.  There were two sets of chairs on either side of the table facing each other and a small pitcher of ice water with a couple of paper cups sitting on a nearby corner table.  Justin thought fleetingly of how akin it was to those stereotypical interrogation rooms you always saw on television, except the lighting overhead wasn’t composed of the typical bare light bulb.  That didn’t do anything, however, to ease his nervousness as two pairs of eyes peered back at him intently.

 

Carl stretched out his hand toward the opposite side of the table located in the center of the room.  “Have a seat, Mr. Taylor,” he instructed politely but tersely.

 

Justin nodded as he walked around the table and pulled the chair out to sit down, placing the portfolio down on the table but not taking his hand away from it.

 

Brian and Carl exchanged a look between themselves, not missing the blond’s possessive grip on the mysterious package he was carrying; Brian chose to remain standing as he leaned against the far wall to better observe their visitor while Carl took one of the seats opposite Justin.

 

“Water?” Carl asked as Justin shook his head mutely in reply.

 

“Okay, then….so why don’t you tell us why you’re here, Mr. Taylor?  You told my lieutenant it had something to do with the child murders.”

 

Justin nodded his head as he peered over at the darkly brooding young detective whose eyes were practically boring into his.  He swallowed a nervous lump in his throat as he nodded back at the older man.  “Yes.”  His breathing quickened as he reached over to open the flap of his portfolio and pull out his sketchbook. 

 

Brian frowned; what in the hell?  “What’s that?” he asked.

 

“It’s my sketchbook,” Justin explained as he glanced over at him.  “I’m a student at PIFA in the graphic arts program.”

 

Brian couldn’t help rolling his eyes a little at that piece of information as the blond returned his gaze back to Carl; if this man was hoping to get some sort of notoriety by volunteering to be a sketch artist for them, he was about to get bounced out on his ass – a cute, bubble-butt ass he thought admittedly (after all, he had an eye for noticing details) – but he would do it regardless, because they didn’t need to be wasting time on that sort of thing.

 

Carl sighed softly, disappointed that this was apparently turning into yet another dead end regarding the case that had been practically consuming every bit of his time and energy for the past six weeks to the total ignorance of everything else.  “Why don’t you just tell us why you’re here, Son?” he asked, trying hard to let his impatience show.  “We have a lot of work to do today.”

 

Justin nodded as he took a deep breath to try and bolster his confidence.  Casting one last look at the seriously-looking police sergeant as he tried to decide how best to begin, he finally reached over and slowly opened the sketchpad lying on top of the portfolio and leafed through it until he came to the drawing he wanted.  The sketchpad he had brought with him was used exclusively for the purpose of documenting his visions; as soon as he experienced them, no matter what time of the day or night, he always stopped what he was doing and began to frantically jot down the images so he wouldn’t forget what he had seen. 

 

In the case of this last vision, however, he knew that he would never forget it, no matter how hard he might want to.  It was too horrifying and too ghastly.  He actually wouldn’t have needed his sketchbook this time; the images were too firmly entrenched in his mind.  He knew he would need to draw them, however, if he had any hope of convincing the police of his intention to help them.

 

He finally stopped at the page he needed as his heart lodged in his throat at the scene he had sketched.  He could hear the sergeant inhaling a sharp intake of breath as it was exposed to his eyes.  The sketch showed a body of a young male child at the bottom of a ravine ringed with large, towering cedar trees; the child had his arms crossed at his waist and was wearing pajamas, the sleepwear clearly showing the tractor design that Victim #7 had been wearing when he had been found this morning.  On the boy’s chest was a purple heart with swirls of white that was an exact duplication of what the latest calling card of the killer’s had looked like. 

 

“My God,” Carl couldn’t help uttering as Brian’s eyebrows rose curiously; from his vantage point near the door, he couldn’t make out what the sketch contained, but from his boss’s reaction it was apparently more than just some artist trying to show off his potential employability skills.   Carl looked over at Brian, his look conveying somehow that this wasn’t just a wacko or a young kid looking for his first postgraduate job.  This was much more serious.

 

Brian walked over to the desk to take a look; normally he could remain totally detached from what he was seeing – it was almost a prerequisite for being a cop - but despite his best intentions, he couldn’t help letting out a soft gasp at what he saw.  There in front of him in crystal-clear, life-like detail was the exact crime scene from this morning, down to the child’s pajamas with the heart pinned to his chest.  The details regarding what each child had been wearing at the time of their death, along with the paper heart, had been deliberately withheld from almost everyone, including most on the police force.  Even the police briefings his boss had held with the rest of the squad had only provided just enough information to keep them in the loop without being overly descriptive.

 

Carl had felt it crucial not to reveal certain details to everyone; so far, only the forensics team, Brian, and the sergeant knew that the killer not only was attaching a paper heart to each murdered child’s chest but he was also bathing each child carefully after he had been killed and dressing them in a new pair of pajamas, each one a different design from the last.  He figured it was only a matter of time before someone in the press received wind of those details, but for now Carl was holding it a closely guarded secret in case it was needed to weed out the actual killer. 

 

Now, however, as Brian stared in incredulity at the skillfully-drawn rendering of this morning’s crime scene, he couldn’t help thinking that at last they might have just found their killer.  This man was an artist and if he had, indeed, drawn this he was obviously extremely detailed in his work; the paper hearts, while primitive in design, were still inventive and unique.  It made perfect sense, he thought, as he studied the young blond peering up at him apprehensively. 

 

He and Carl exchanged looks before the sergeant took the lead.  “I think you’d better explain this picture, Mr. Taylor,” he said sternly as he eyed their visitor.

 

Justin swallowed the hard lump in his throat in response to the older man’s suspicious tone of voice; this was what he had feared.  How could he explain this and make them understand?  Hell, he had a hard time understanding this horrible ‘gift’ himself.  But he had to try – for his sake as well as the children’s.

 

“I…..I had a vision last night,” he began, thinking that statement sounded absurd even to his own ears. 

 

He looked up as he heard a soft guffaw from the brunet and observed Horvath put his hand up slightly in a silent signal for the detective to be quiet.  “A vision?” Carl responded.  “Just what kind of vision?”

 

Justin let out a nervous breath.  “I know this sounds crazy, but ever since I was little I’ve had this ability to…..to see things.  Normally they involve people I know.  I see them either in my dreams or in my mind’s eye when I’m awake and then after a while I find out they’ve come true.”  He paused for a couple seconds before adding softly, “This is the first time I’ve dreamed about a stranger.”

 

Brian rubbed his hand over his face in disbelief.  Did this man really think he or Carl was going to fall for this shit?  He opened his mouth to verbalize what he was thinking, but a pointed look from his boss caused him to change his mind for the time being.  He knew his sergeant well enough by now to know that he was no doubt thinking the same thing.  This sort of hocus-pocus simply didn’t exist, except in fertile imaginations – or guilty consciences.  And there was no way this could simply be someone’s creativity at play – this man knew too many of the facts in astonishingly accurate detail.

 

“Mr. Taylor,” Carl said as he once more glanced over at the horrifying real-looking scene drawn on paper before him.  “You’re trying to tell us that you saw all this in your mind and drew it afterward?”  As Justin nodded yes, Carl looked up at Brian in a clearly unspoken signal that he was ready for Brian’s input now.  In response, Brian leaned over the edge of the table, supporting his upper body with his hands as he stared intently into the intense blue eyes – even under the circumstances, he couldn’t quite bring himself to think they were the eyes of a killer.  They weren’t cold and unfeeling; on the contrary, they appeared to be sorrowful and filled with pain.  Remorse, perhaps?

 

The brunet stated curtly, “You’re trying to tell us that you imagined all of this in your head?  This much detail about the crime scene?”

 

Justin looked up at Brian towering over him as if he had been struck.  Did this detective mean……?  “You mean….this has already happened?” he whispered, horrified at the thought.   

 

Brian snorted; either this man thought they were stupid or he was the best actor in the world, because he really seemed tormented by the thought.  He glanced down at Carl to make sure it was alright to say something and he noticed the sergeant nod briefly.  “You’ve just drawn a perfect rendition of how we found Victim #7 this morning.”

 

Justin’s eyes filled with tears of anguish.  “No,” he breathed out, his voice breaking.  He shook his head.  “God…..I didn’t know,” he whispered.  “I……I thought I was coming here in time.”

 

Brian shook his head.  This man was good – really good.  But it still didn’t explain why he knew what he knew – what almost no one else knew yet.  “Coming here in time?”

 

Justin nodded as he raised his gaze to meet Brian’s; his eyes were shining with unshed tears of agony over what he now knew he hadn’t been able to prevent after all.  “My visions always occurred before the event actually happened,” he struggled to explain.  “I….I don’t understand.”  He shook his head sorrowfully as he placed his head in his hands and braced his elbows on the table.  He took a shuddering breath.  “Oh, God,” he murmured.  Why now

 

Why had he seen this vision after the fact?  Why was it different this time?  Could it be because it really hadn’t been the first time he had seen what was happening?  Was it because, unlike all the other times, this one hadn’t been as clear in his mind until now?  He had been having other instances of what he now realized must have been some of the other victims crying out for help, but until last night nothing had formed completely in his mind.  Until now, there had just been whispers of what was happening; only last night had he actually seen the scene clearly in his mind, enough to enable him to draw something useful.  Now, though, he realized with horrible clarity that it had been too late to save yet another victim.  Why? 

 

“Mr. Taylor,” Brian said with disdain.  “You really want us to believe that you have no first-hand knowledge of who’s killing these kids?  You really expect us to believe that you just saw all of this in your head?”  He pointed down to the drawing lying face up on the table. “That you were able to draw this picture – with all these details – simply based on some vision?” 

 

Justin removed his hands and opened his eyes at the sound of Brian’s commanding voice to peer up into the handsome detective’s face.  He could clearly see distrust and suspicion written there.  That was what he had dreaded from the moment he had seen this horrific scene in his mind.  Somehow, though, he had to make these two men believe him – that he was there trying to help.  Even though he now knew the awful truth that he had been unable to prevent this child’s death, he knew in his gut that this child wouldn’t be the last one unless something was done to stop it from happening again.

 

“Yes,” he said softly as he gazed into the detective’s eyes, desperately trying to make him understand.  “You’ve got to believe me.  I never asked for this to happen – I never wanted to see these things in my head.  But I do.  And I know – I just know – it’s going to happen again, unless someone stops him.”  He couldn’t quite explain why – he had never had such a strong feeling about an impending event before – but somehow he was sure of it.   

 

Brian sighed as he looked into the beautiful blond’s face.  Despite his better judgement, he found himself wanting to believe the man’s sincerity.  But the whole thing was so absurd; how could he possibly be able to portend what was going to happen in the future?  And how could he have supplied them with a virtual blueprint of the crime scene from this morning without being directly involved?  “This is just too outlandish, Mr. Taylor,” Brian told him flatly. 

 

“Justin,” the blond told him, suddenly feeling old as well as weary.  “The name’s Justin.”

 

Brian huffed out a frustrated breath.  “Okay…..Justin.  Surely you realize how hard this is to believe, don’t you?” 

 

The artist nodded as he glanced over at both men.  “I know,” he whispered in concession.  His voice rose slightly, however, as he added, “But do you really think I would come here – with this,” he pointed over at his drawing, “if I wasn’t being honest with you?  Do you really think I would bring something with me that would make me look like I was the killer?”  He shook his head strongly.  “Do I look like a fucking killer to YOU?  Shit, I would never do that to anyone, especially a child.  I can’t even kill a bug!”

 

Carl sighed over this exchange.  It was all so unbelievable, so incredible to be real.  But their visitor had a point; he certainly didn’t act or seem like a killer.  And Brian had been adamant about how intelligent this murderer had to be; they had no tangible clues except for the hearts and pajamas to go on, no fingerprints or credible footprints of any kind, no traceable DNA even.  If he or she was that smart, then, would they show up here with a virtual roadmap of what they had done?

 

It didn’t make sense to him that someone could see these types of events in their head and draw them with this much incredible detail, but then again, he had spoken with colleagues at other police departments before who claimed they had swallowed their own cynicism and gave clairvoyant types a try when they had become desperate for clues to help solve crimes.  And in some instances, they were convinced that these people did, indeed, manage to help them solve what would have normally been considered cold cases.  Was this young man possibly telling the truth, then?  They were at a virtual standstill when it came to this case, and the public was clambering for an arrest.  What did they have to lose, then?  Their credibility, he couldn’t help thinking as he stared over into the earnest-looking blue eyes pleading silently back at him. 

 

Carl put out his hand again to Brian, indicating he wanted to talk as Brian stood up and turned around to pace silently around the room.  “Son….You must admit this is highly strange,” he stated.  “Even if I do believe you,” he noticed Brian whirl around in disbelief at his statement.  “Even if I do believe you, and I’m not saying I do,” he hastened to add as Justin’s face fell slightly.  “Unless you have something else to add to this drawing, this is old news to us.  The child is dead already,” he said softly, almost sympathetically as he noticed the anguished look on the blond’s face.  “Have you been able to see anything else besides what you’ve drawn here that might help us?”

 

“Carl….” Brian began.  He couldn’t believe that such a seasoned detective as his boss was actually beginning to believe the blond’s bullshit. 

 

Carl shook his head at Brian, effectively quieting him once more.  “Let him answer the question, Brian,” he gently admonished his subordinate.  “Have you seen anything else that might help us?”

 

Justin let out a sorrowful breath and shook his head.  “Nothing concrete,” he admitted.  “Before the nightmare I had last night, I could see these vague impressions – voices, really – of some man talking to what sounded like children, telling them to ‘be quiet’ and ‘go back to sleep.’  At least I thought they were children – the voices were high-pitched……and scared.”  He shuddered at the recollection.  “So fucking scared.”  He sucked in a deep breath of air to try and control his emotions before adding, “Somehow even before last night, I knew they were about children.” 

 

Brian rolled his eyes.  Surely Carl wasn’t actually starting to believe this man? 

 

“You said you knew it was a man talking,” Carl pressed him.  “How did you know?  Did you see a picture of him in your head?”  He found himself actually hoping the blond would say yes, but to his disappointment he shook his head sadly.

 

“No,” Justin confirmed verbally.  “But I could hear the voice, and could tell it was definitely a man talking to them.  But I’ve never actually seen any faces…..not until last night.  And I couldn’t see anyone else except the boy,” he whispered. 

 

Carl nodded.  “Nothing else except for what you have in this picture?” he asked.

 

Justin shook his head as he glanced down at the horrible scene he had drawn.  “No,” he whispered.  “Nothing else.”

 

Carl nodded again as he studied the young man in front of him.  He had risen in the ranks of the police force through a mixture of dogged determination, a keen eye for detail, as well as a talent for playing hunches.  And as hard as he was finding it to believe, he was actually starting to feel that this young man was sincere about wanting to help.  Even if he was somehow involved with the murders, they didn’t have enough to charge him with anything or hold him at the present time.

 

“Can I keep this, Mr. Taylor?” he asked the blond, who nodded as he reached over and tore the sheet off the sketchpad and handed it over to him.  Carl realized that at the very least, he would have a copy of Taylor’s fingerprints in case they needed them.  The fact that the young man didn’t seem to hesitate when he placed the sketch down in front of him made him even more convinced that he was somehow innocent of any wrongdoing.  He made sure, however, not to touch the print himself so they could still obtain his fingerprints just in case as Justin laid the print down on the table in front of him.

 

“Well, if you don’t have anything else, then, you can go.  I would like to keep your phone number and address handy just in case, though.”

 

Justin nodded as he let out a sigh of relief.  At least he had tried to help and they were done questioning him.  He still felt awful that another child had been killed, but he had done all he could.  “I’ve got nothing to hide,” he maintained stiffly as he looked over at the detective to emphasize his statement.  He could tell by the cynical look on the handsome man’s face that he still wasn’t buying his story. 

 

Carl nodded as he stood up.  “Detective Kinney will escort you out, then.  You can give your contact information to him.”

 

Justin stood up and pushed his chair back as he retrieved his portfolio and slung it over his shoulder in preparation to leave. “Thank you for listening to me,” he murmured to the older man, who gave him a curt nod of his head in acknowledgment.

 

As Justin walked toward the door, Brian eyed him intently for a few seconds before he opened the door and with a sweep of his hand indicated he should go first.  The brunet gave his boss a look that definitely said they would have to talk later before he turned to silently follow their visitor out.

 

As they reached the lobby, Justin turned to stare defiantly into the hazel eyes that he could swear had been boring into his back the entire time they had been walking down the hall.  “You don’t believe me, do you?” he asked point blank.

 

Brian smirked.  “No, I don’t,” he answered flatly.  “I never have believed in psychic mumbo-jumbo.”

 

Justin nodded.  “Then how do you explain what I drew?” he challenged.

 

Brian shrugged.  “I haven’t really determined that,” he admitted.  “But I do know one thing.  You didn’t just dream it up like you claim.”

 

Justin shook his head in frustration and aggravation as he hurriedly reached inside the portfolio’s outside pocket to locate a small memo pad and pencil.  As Brian watched him silently, he jotted down his cell phone number and address on one of the sheets and roughly tore it out.  As he handed it to the brunet, he said, “I guess you’ll believe what you want to, Mr. Kinney.  “But trust me; I wouldn’t have gone through this humiliation out of some sick sense of twisted pleasure.  I don’t like being able to see what’s going to happen in the future.  It’s brought me nothing but pain and regret.  Honestly?  I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.  And I hope I never see another vision again.”  He sighed.  “Unfortunately, though, I have no control over it.”  Just before he turned to go, he added rather coolly, “Thank the sergeant again for hearing me out, though.  I’ve done what I could do.  I just wish it had been enough.”

 

As he walked toward the door and opened it, Brian couldn’t help watching him leave, still suspicious and skeptical but also just a little grudgingly impressed by the man’s passion in his beliefs.   He thoughtfully watched the blond disappear through the outer entrance door before he turned finally to head back to his boss’s office.

Chapter Text

Carl glanced up as he noticed a shadow appearing in the doorway out of the corner of his eye.  “Don’t say it,” he warned Brian as the brunet walked into his office unannounced and plopped down heavily in one of the ancient, wooden chairs opposite his desk.  “I already know what you’re going to say,” the older man advised, putting his stubby pencil down and leaning back in his chair to peer over at his agitated detective; Brian was drumming his long fingers on the arm of the chair restlessly, and Carl knew he was itching to speak his mind.

 

Brian sighed heavily.  “Are you psychic now, too?” he retorted. 

 

“I don’t need to be a psychic to know what you’re thinking, Kinney,” Carl told him flatly.  “You think the blond kid has something to do with the murders and is lying through his pearly white teeth.”

 

Brian snorted in agreement as his eyes flashed.  “Well, what other the fuck explanation could there be, Sarge?  This guy waltzes in from out on the street with drawings so accurate they could be copies of the damn police photos and he claims it’s because he saw them in his head?  Surely you don’t believe that bullshit!  Nobody could be that detailed…..I don’t care if he IS channeling Mickey Spillane!  Surely you’re not falling for his story?” 

 

“Calm down, Brian,” Carl beseeched him, holding his hand out to try and placate his younger associate.  “I’m going to have him checked out thoroughly, don’t worry.  In fact, I think that’s an excellent job for YOU to take on.  Only a few here at the station know about the killer’s calling card and the pajamas – and I’d like to keep it that way until we nail the bastard who’s killing all these kids.”

 

Brian huffed.  “No problem – I can’t wait to personally blow Taylor’s scheme out of the water.  I don’t think he’s clever enough to be the actual killer, but he’s either got some inside information or he’s an accomplice of some sort to know what he knows.  It’s the only logical explanation.”

 

Carl nodded, but silently he still wasn’t so sure.  He was still thinking of all those hardened, cynical cops who had changed their minds after engaging, albeit reluctantly, into an uneasy alliance with someone who claimed they had psychic abilities.  He still wasn’t sure he believed their tales of success with using them, but he was trying to maintain an open mind nonetheless.  He knew it was just a matter of time before the killer struck again, so they had to pursue every possible lead they had; Justin Taylor had just been thrust to the top of the pile in that category.

 

“Why do you think he would come here willingly to place himself under suspicion if he had something to hide?” he asked his cocky detective, trying to play devil’s advocate.  He had found frequently that whenever he and Brian engaged in this activity, typically they gleaned very insightful angles into the case they were currently pursuing.

 

Brian retorted, “Who knows?  Maybe he’s like all the other neglected, mistreated psychos and just wants his five minutes of fame.  That’s about to backfire, though; before I get done, I’ll know everything about him, even down to the brand of toothpaste he uses, and we’re going to catch the son of a bitch who’s been doing this.”  The current wave of child killings had struck much too close to home for Brian; every young victim they discovered just made him think of one thing:  That could have been my own son….  And it made his resolve that much stronger to find the monster before he did any more harm.  Even now, just the thought of another little boy like Gus being put into danger and winding up as the next target filled him with horror and made bile rise into his throat in response.

 

“You got his contact information before he left?”  Carl asked as Brian nodded, coming out of his reverie.  “Good,” He told him.  “We know he’s supposed to be a student at PIFA; you can start by checking him out there.  Does he live on campus?”

 

Brian reached inside his pocket to look at the hastily scrawled information the blond had given him.  “No,” he told Carl.  He recognized the address as a modest-rent district near the school.  “Looks like he lives a few blocks away, probably in an apartment I imagine or maybe a fraternity house.”  Although, as Brian pictured the blond in his head, he somehow didn’t think that Taylor was the frat boy type.  He seemed too ‘pretty’ to engage in the rough and tumble, rowdy world they often lived in.  He pictured him as some sort of ‘starving artist’ type instead, probably living hand-to-mouth in some sort of beatnik, bohemian flat.

 

Carl nodded.  “Then he’s probably got a roommate – see if he or she will give out some information on him after you talk to his professors and the dean; the dean’s name is Jason Hargrove, by the way.  He knows me pretty well from all the off-duty cops we’ve provided for their social events there; I think he’ll be willing to give you some information without having to go through hoops to get it.  If not, let me know and I’ll come down hard on him myself – he owes me some favors.  I want to know everything there is to know about that kid; right now he’s about the only lead we have.”

 

Brian stood up.  “You got it,” he stated adamantly, his eyes flashing with determination.  He was more than happy to oblige his sergeant; the sooner they determined what Taylor’s motivation was for coming here today, the sooner they would be one step closer to the killer.

 

Carl pinched his nose with his fingers; he could feel the faint whispers of a headache coming on and he thought he knew why.  “The police chief has called a news conference for this afternoon at 3:00 for us to meet with the fucking press,” he divulged to his detective.  “The public’s understandably in a panic about this whole situation and he’s bowed to pressure this time.”

 

“Do you think that’s wise, Sarge?”

 

“Don’t have any choice,” Carl told him curtly.  “When the police chief tells me to arrange something, that’s what I have to do.”  He sighed.  “There’s a fine line, though, between keeping the public advised about a serial killer on the loose and at the same time, not giving out so much information that it jeopardizes our search.  So I will abide by the Chief’s directive, but that doesn’t mean I’m still going to tell everything I know.  I told him I won’t give out any information about the paper hearts or the pajamas; that’s something we need to keep close to the vest since it’s just between the killer and us for now.”

 

Brian snorted softly.  “And Taylor.”  He turned to go.  “I’ll let you know what I find out,” he advised as he walked toward the door, only to be stopped by the commanding tone of his superior’s voice.

 

 “Just be careful, Kinney,” Carl admonished him.  “Make sure you’re not stepping on his rights; the last thing we want is to have charges thrown out on some fucking technicality in this case.  As much as it no doubts pain you to hear it, you need to go by the book on this one for a change.”

 

Brian smirked.  “You know me,” he quipped before he gave his sergeant a slight, arrogant smile and left.

 

As Brian exited his office, Carl couldn’t help whispering, “Yeah, I do….That’s what I’m afraid of.”  He fervently hoped that his brash, young detective wouldn’t cross the line between persistent, dogged police work and breaking the law; Brian was a talented detective, but he also liked to skirt the limits of what he was allowed to do legally and he tended to do it on a frequent basis, much to his consternation. 

 

“Good luck, Kinney,” he wished his detective softly as he sighed and resumed working on the mound of paperwork lying on his desk.  Even with advances every day in police work, it seemed that some things never changed…..

 

-----------------  

 

Same Time – Justin’s Apartment

 

“So they didn’t believe you.”  Daphne’s brown eyes gazed sympathetically at her friend from her place on their somewhat ratty-looking, rust-colored couch; she felt badly for Justin, but couldn’t say she was surprised by their reaction, though.  If she didn’t know him as well as she did, and hadn’t been personally privy to Justin’s bouts of nightmarish dreams and horrifying, daytime visions, she would have had an extremely hard time accepting Justin’s ‘gift’ as legitimate, too.

 

“Of course they didn’t,” Justin told her sadly from his place next to her on the couch.  “At least the sergeant listened to what I had to say, but the detective – he looked at me as if I was a fucking alien from outer space.”  Even now, Justin could recall the handsome man’s look of utter disbelief and scorn as he had tried to explain to them why he had felt such a driving need to see them.  There was no doubt in Brian Kinney’s mind that he was somehow culpable in the children’s murders; somehow he had a feeling the man would have thought that no matter what he had said.  “Daphne, I’m sure they feel I had something to do with these crimes now.” 

 

He let out an anxious huff of breath as he bowed his head and placed it in his hands while resting his elbows on his knees.  “Shit, what was I thinking?” he mumbled.  “Did I honestly think I could just walk in there and they would believe that I saw all of this happening in my mind?”  He raised his head to peer into his friend’s worried eyes, realizing how ridiculous that sounded even to his own ears.  “I thought I was helping to prevent another murder, Daphne.  God, I had no idea it had already happened!”  His eyes filled with tears of regret.  “If I had only done something about it sooner….”

 

“And just how would you have done that, Justin?  You didn’t even dream about this latest murder until it had already happened!”  Her friend had already told her of his mistaken belief that his vision last night was a portent of things to come; the knowledge that it had already happened instead had filled Justin with a terrible sense of grief as well as guilt, even though he had nothing to do with it.

 

“I don’t know!” he cried out now, his face a clear expression of turmoil.  “God, I just want someone to take this awful responsibility away from me!  I never asked for this, Daphne!  I don’t WANT to see anymore!” 

 

Daphne reached over to place her slender hand against her friend’s back soothingly.  “I know you don’t, Justin.  But you and I both know it’s not some illness you can take a pill for and get rid of.  For whatever reason, you’ve been given this amazing ability.   You obviously can’t wish it away or control it, no matter how hard you might want to.”  She gazed over at her friend reassuringly.  “You’ve done everything you can.  There’s no way the police are going to blame you for something you didn’t have anything to do with – there’s no proof!”  She asked him softly, “You said they kept your drawing, right?”

 

Justin nodded his head, still wondering if there was something – anything – more that he could have done.  “Yeah,” he confirmed.  “Now I’m not convinced that was such a great idea, though; I’m sure they think I couldn’t have just ‘dreamed’ all of the details up.  But they asked to keep it, and I couldn’t very well refuse if it would help their investigation.”

 

“Well, you told them what you know and they have the drawing of what you saw.  You need to let it drop.  Let the police handle it.  What more can you do than what you’ve already done?”

 

“I don’t know – go to the press, maybe?  But I’m afraid if I do, I’ll be hounded everywhere I go, and I’ll endanger the police investigation, too.”  He was amazed, now that he thought of it, that he hadn’t been admonished by either the detective or Sergeant Horvath not to say anything to anyone else; but in his gut somehow he knew it would be a mistake to make his information public.  For now, he understood he had to trust that the police knew what they were doing, but it still didn’t lessen the pain that he felt over what was happening.

 

He turned his gaze to stare out over the street below; the neighborhood he and Daphne lived in was comprised mainly of other college-age students who were going about their normal, everyday business seemingly without a care in the world.  How he wished just once that he could count himself among the lucky masses, instead of carrying this awful burden around with him….

 

He turned his attention back to his friend.  “Daphne, this isn’t just some chronically-ill uncle who’s about to die; this isn’t one of my relatives who’s about to discover her husband’s been fucking around on her.  It’s not a friend who’s about to break an arm.  These are children being murdered.  It’s different this time. 

 

The young woman leaned over Justin to whisper softly, “I know it is.  And I know it’s tearing you apart.  But you’re only one person, Justin.  You did the right thing by going to the police.  And I happen to agree with you.  If you go directly to the press, I think that would be a mistake.  You apparently know some information that no one else except the police and the killer know.  If you blurt out something that they want to keep secret for now, that might not only blow their investigation apart but also encourage the killer to keep murdering for the thrill of the notoriety, or worse, change his M.O. so the police have to start all over again.”

 

Despite the dire situation, Justin couldn’t help twisting his mouth slightly in amusement at his friend’s speech; no doubt Daphne’s fondness for all those crime investigation television shows was manifesting itself at the moment. 

 

She gave her friend’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze.  “I really don’t know what else you can do, Justin, except keep the police informed if you ‘see’ any more information in your mind.  I mean, what else is there?”

 

Justin bit his lip as he brushed a tear away with his sleeve that threatened to fall from his eye.  “I wish I knew,” he replied painfully at last. 

 

He took a deep, shaky breath to try and compose himself before standing up.  “I’ve got to get to class – if I can even concentrate on class.”  He looked down into the sympathetic face of his friend and tried to smile down at her in gratitude; he only half-succeeded, though, as it came out more as a grimace.  “Thanks for trying to help, Daphne.  Just being able to talk about it without someone looking at me like I’m crazy helps a little. I’m afraid I need more help than you can give me, though – more than anyone can give me.”  

 

As the young woman watched her tortured friend leave, she shook her head, helpless to know what to do to ease Justin’s pain.  She decided that if there was a God in heaven, he would do two things:  1) allow Justin to live a normal life from now on, free of the horrendous visions he had been having lately, and 2) find whoever was killing so many innocent children.  Only time would tell, however, if either of her wishes would come to pass.

 

=================

 

One Hour Later – Mid-Afternoon – PIFA Dean’s Office

 

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Detective Kinney,” Jason Hargrove said as he rushed into his office and shook the younger man’s hand.  Hargrove had been the dean of PIFA for the past 35 years now; time spent too often at facility meetings that served way too much fattening snack foods had caused him to accrue about 30 pounds too much on his previously-trim frame, but at 62 he still had a full head of dark brown hair, alert, dark-green eyes and a mind that was still sharp as a tack.  “My secretary said you were here on some urgent police business.”  He motioned for Brian to sit down in a dark brown, leather overstuffed chair as he walked over to his desk and sat down facing him.   “Coffee?”

 

Brian shook his head.  “No, thanks.”

 

Hargrove nodded.  “So what can I do for you, Detective?”

 

“I have some questions regarding one of your students,” Brian advised him, seeing no reason to beat around the bush.  “Do you know a Justin Taylor?”

 

Hargrove’s brow creased in thought for a few seconds as he leaned back in his chair.  “The name does sound familiar, but of course we have over 600 students here; wait a minute, let me think.”  He idly picked up a brochure on his desk, advertising a recent art show sponsored by the school and showcasing some of their more talented students.  “Yes, of course, that’s why he sounds so familiar.  I remember now - Justin’s a visual art student here – I believe he’s currently a sophomore at the school.  Very talented, too; his artwork was just displayed at our annual exhibition that is open to the public.  He actually had two of his drawings sell during the show, which is rare for an undergraduate.  And it’s very unusual for someone his age to be offered a chance to participate at all – normally that privilege is reserved for mainly the older junior and senior students - but if he hadn’t earned the honor he wouldn’t have been there.”  The dean peered over curiously at his somber visitor.  “Is there a problem with Mr. Taylor?  Is he in some sort of trouble?” 

 

Brian pondered that question for a few seconds, not quite sure how to respond.  He still didn’t trust Taylor, but on the other hand he couldn’t say with conviction what the blond’s role in the killings was, at least not yet.  He finally chose a middle ground as he replied instead, “It’s a confidential matter, Sir.  I can tell you that it doesn’t involve the school directly, and Mr. Taylor isn’t being charged with something.”  Not yet, anyway…..  “What else can you tell me about him?  How is his attendance here?  What kind of student has he been?  Any disciplinary issues?” 

 

In response the older man picked up his phone to call his assistant.  “Marla, I need you to pull a student file for me from current records – it’s a Justin Taylor; he’s a visual arts student in Reynolds’ class.  Can you bring me his information as soon as possible, please?  Thanks.”

 

He looked over at Brian to explain, “I can give you some information directly from his file, but if you need anything further it would be best to speak to Mr. Taylor’s art teacher, Malcolm Reynolds.” 

 

Brian nodded.  “I appreciate your help, Dean,” he responded politely, relieved that he wouldn’t have to resort to either obtaining a search warrant or, more likely, performing some creative verbal acrobatics to obtain what he needed without it.  “I think right now I just need some preliminary information on him.”

 

“If he’s in some kind of trouble….”

 

“No,” Brian said as he tried to sound reassuring; he imagined the other man was no doubt worrying about the school’s reputation being tarnished.  “No trouble.”  His sergeant’s admonition to go ‘by the book’ reverberated in his ears as he added, “I’m sorry, Dean Hargrove; that’s all I’m at liberty to say at the moment, though.  I’m sure you understand.”

 

The dean’s eyebrow rose slightly; he was dying to ask just how one of their students factored into police business, but he could tell by the other man’s expression that it would do no good to press him on it.  “Of course,” he responded courteously with a small smile as a short series of raps sounded on his door. 

“Come in,” he called out, as the door opened to reveal the Dean’s assistant, Marla Hopkins, who had greeted Brian earlier while he had been waiting for her boss to return from a meeting.

 

“Here’s the file you wanted, Dean,” she informed her boss as she handed him a letter-size manila folder.

 

“Thanks, Marla.  That’s all for right now.”  The petite, red-headed woman nodded to both men before turning to leave, quietly closing the door behind her as she left. 

 

“Let’s see,” the dean murmured as he opened up the student file for Justin Taylor and perused the contents.  “Yes, I was correct; Justin is a sophomore this year.  He came to us from St. James Academy.  Had a 1500 on his SAT score for admission; quite impressive.”

 

Brian had to silently agree; while he couldn’t get a handle yet on what had motivated the blond to voluntarily come to the police station earlier, one thing was certain:  the man was apparently quite intelligent as well as creative.  Was he cunning as well? He waited silently with great interest for what other details the dean would divulge about him.

 

“He has a cumulative GPA of 3.48 through last semester,” the dean continued as he read from the material.  “He’s currently taking a full workload of courses, including a couple of upper-level classes.  There’s been no disciplinary issues noted during his enrollment; in fact, there’s a couple of letters in his file commending him for volunteering at the Gay and Lesbian Center downtown.”  The dean quickly scanned the two letters before explaining, “He’s contributed a couple of paintings for the Center to sell for their fundraiser the past couple of years, and he was recently recognized for passing the 100-hour mark for total time volunteered there on the weekends.” 

 

He raised his eyes to look over at Brian as he finished scanning the paperwork.  “I’d say that despite the unfortunate incident that occurred at St. James in his senior year, Mr. Taylor’s enrollment here has been quite exemplary.”

 

Brian’s ears perked up at that last statement.  “Unfortunate incident?” 

 

The dean nodded.  “I suppose since you work with Horvath, who’s the most honest son of a bitch I know by the way, I can tell you.  When Mr. Taylor was a senior, he was attacked by someone who didn’t care for his sexual orientation.  From what I understand, he was accosted the night of his senior prom by a fellow student who resented him bringing a date – a male date – to their school dance.  He waited until after Mr. Taylor and his date parted ways out in the parking garage and then promptly took a baseball bat and hit him on the side of his head.  Mr. Taylor told us in his admission interview that he had had extensive physical therapy right after the incident occurred, but it still has left him with occasional pain and coordination issues regarding his right hand.  It tends to cramp up at times, making it difficult for him to complete some of his assigned projects on time.  But Professor Reynolds told me a while back that Mr. Taylor always either stays late to finish if necessary, or he allows him to take the project home and complete it for the next day.” 

 

The dean closed the folder and placed it down on his desk.  “I think that says a lot about Mr. Taylor’s dedication to his work – and his character.”  The man eyed Brian intently.  “I still wish you’d tell me what this is all about, Detective; I find it hard to believe that a student of this caliber would have a run-in with the law.  You say he isn’t in some kind of trouble?  It’s not this Hobbs student who accosted him before, is it?  I understand the judge let his assailant off with more or less a slap on his wrist; really surprising considering how brutal the attack was.” 

 

Brian grudgingly had to agree with Hargrove’s statement as his assessment kept changing about the enigmatic blond by the minute.  The Dean was being more than generous with his information; so far, he knew Justin Taylor was apparently an exemplary student, very talented beyond his years, altruistic through his volunteer work, and had managed to persevere despite having been severely injured a few years ago by a homophobic prick.  And the man was gay.

 

That last revelation Brian had pretty much ascertained from their meeting at the police station; his intuition and uncanny knack for ascertaining unspoken facts was not only helpful in his police work but also in his personal life.  His gaydar had starting ringing the second he had laid eyes on the beautiful blond sitting there so nervously out in the lobby, but he had tamped it down due to the seriousness of what they were discussing.  

 

He glanced over at the dean, who was eyeing him intently.  “No,” Brian responded firmly, realizing the man had asked a question and still needed an answer.  “I can tell you it has nothing to do with this Hobbs person.”  He noticed the art brochure the Dean had mentioned earlier still lying on the other man’s desk.  “Can I have that?” he asked, nodding his head over toward the object.

 

Hargrove shrugged.  “Sure,” he said.  “We have plenty left over from the printing run.  There’s a picture of Mr. Taylor in there, by the way; we take photos of all the participating artists to include in the brochure’s distribution.”

 

Brian nodded as he picked up the pamphlet and opened it.  His eyes immediately fell upon the small, square color head shot of Justin Taylor.  He had to admit – the man was very attractive in an almost porcelain doll sort of way.  Blond, shiny hair; pale, smooth skin, full lips, especially the lower one, an absolutely dazzling smile, and those eyes – sort of a cross between the crystal blue of shallow ocean water and the sparkle of sapphires.  He found them quite intriguing; he was beginning to find the man behind those eyes intriguing as well as he began to acknowledge that he didn’t quite know what to make of this man now who had entered his life so mysteriously earlier today.   He still didn’t trust the man – he had never been one to believe in psychic bullshit – but if this dean’s assessment of Taylor was accurate, he had to admit the blond certainly didn’t seem to fit the part of either a killer OR an accomplice, either.  So just what WAS the truth about this man? 

 

He sighed softly in puzzlement.  It was obvious he was going to have to dig deeper into just who – and what – Justin Taylor was.  He stood up with the brochure in his hand as the Dean rose as well.  “Well, I think I have everything I need for now, Dean Hargrove.  Thank you for your assistance.  I’ll be in touch if I need anything else.”

 

The dean nodded as Brian turned to go.  “I’m glad I could be of help,” he said.  “Tell Horvath I said hello; I just wish I knew what this is all about.” 

 

Brian forced himself not to roll his eyes in exasperation; the man was tenacious, he had to give him that.  But he still wasn’t going to find out anything further; there was way too much at stake.  “I wish I could tell you, Sir, but it’s crucial that I don’t at the moment.  As I said before, though, Mr. Taylor’s not being accused of anything.”  Not yet, echoed in his mind one more time.  Only time would tell if that held up later.

 

“I’m relieved to hear that,” the dean told him as Brian began to walk toward the door.  “Please tell Horvath to keep me apprised if anything changes.”

 

“I’ll do that,” Brian promised him, but in reality he had no intention of sharing information about a possible killer or his accomplish with this man; there was no way he was endangering this investigation.  As he stopped momentarily in the hallway outside the man’s office a few minutes later, he couldn’t help glancing down at the folded page of the brochure displaying the photo of Justin Taylor.  Just who are you? He wondered silently as he stared thoughtfully at the picture for a few seconds.  Shaking his head and knowing he wasn’t going to find out simply by just standing there, he slipped it inside his jacket pocket before walking toward the exit door. 

 

=================

 

The sun had at last emerged from behind the past two days’ of cloudiness as Justin walked briskly toward the PIFA campus.  He was thankful that having an apartment nearby meant he could save a little money on expenses; the money he had recently earned from selling two of his drawings at the student art show was quickly drying up and he still didn’t have a job.  The sale of his paintings had been a godsend; he had depleted what little savings he had had the day before the show occurred.   Daphne, being the good friend that she was, had offered to help him keep his head above water until he could find another job to replace the sales position he had lost at the art supply store; the economy had soured to the point where a lot of shoppers simply weren’t buying any extravagances lately and being the newest employee there, the owner had reluctantly been forced to lay him off.  But he had politely declined his friend’s offer, although he had no real job prospects at the moment.

 

“Why couldn’t I just dream up tomorrow’s lottery numbers?” he muttered to himself as he hurried along; he hadn’t realized how late he was running for his art class, and he knew he would have to run if he had any hope of getting there before the session started.  He normally didn’t have a problem arriving on time, but the professor made no bones about how he felt toward those hapless students who didn’t – the disapproval on his face and in his voice was unmistakable when you were tardy.  He seemed to take perverse pleasure in pointing out whoever came in late to the rest of the class and actually locked the door on them five minutes after class started; after this morning, the last thing Justin wanted was to draw any more attention to himself.

 

He began to jog down the sidewalk as he finally reached the actual campus; unfortunately, the visual art wing of the school was located on the far side of the grounds.  He picked up speed as he began to trot quickly toward the other side of the brick administration building, hoping that his watch indicating he was two minutes late was running fast. 

 

He was so intent on reaching his classroom that he almost ran headfirst into a man coming out of the administration building’ s main entrance.  Not having time to even acknowledge who it was, he deftly dodged to the left to avoid colliding with the other man, only to have him grab onto his arm and hold him firmly in place anyway. 

 

“What in the hell do you think……”  He began to snarl angrily, trying hard to wriggle out of the man’s hold on him. The aggravated retort he was trying to utter toward the audacious stranger who had reached out to latch onto him so tightly died on his lips, though, as he gazed up into the intense eyes of the man he had just met this morning:  Brian Kinney, police detective and suspicious, cynical man extraordinaire. 

 

Justin’s eyes darkened as he recognized the other man; there was no possible way this could be a coincidence, and he resented it – greatly.  Suddenly his fears over being considered a suspect took second fiddle to the feelings of insult he was experiencing.

 

“You’re following me now?” he asked pointedly.  “Trying to figure out who my next victim’s going to be?  You want me to draw you another picture?”

 

Brian Kinney smirked.  “Don’t flatter yourself, Taylor.  This is a public walkway – I’m free to roam wherever I want.”  He noticed with some chagrin that he was still holding onto the blond and slowly released his grip on him as the blue eyes flashed up at him angrily.  Brian had to admit to himself silently; he had been sloppy this time.  He hadn’t wanted Taylor to know he was here on campus checking up on him, but perhaps it was just as well.  If the blond thought he was being watched closely, maybe it might prevent another child from being murdered.  He had to confess, though – the angry face of the beautiful man peering up at him certainly didn’t resemble any killer he had ever come into contact with, but then again, he normally wasn’t this up close and personal with one, either…..

 

Justin snorted as he snatched his hand away as if he had been burned.  “Yeah, right – you just happen to be here on my campus at the exact same time I needed to get to class.”  He huffed in irritation.  “Thanks to you, though, I’m now late for class.”

 

“Professor Reynolds a tyrant, is he?” He couldn’t help taunting the other man.  He knew Taylor wouldn’t buy his flimsy excuse that he just ‘happened to be in the neighborhood,’ anyway, so he figured he’d might as well come clean.

 

“So you admit it.”

 

The hazel orbs eyed him intently, direct in their boldness.  “So what if I AM here following up on you?  You were the one who came to US, remember?  I’m just doing my job.”

 

Justin shook his head.  “I’m sorry I ever got involved with this whole fucking situation!” he retorted.  “I should have just kept my damn mouth shut for all the good it did me!”

 

“Well, you didn’t,” Brian reminded him.   “So don’t expect me to just ignore your attempt at being the next Rembrandt.  No one could have drawn what you did without having inside knowledge of what’s going on.  And whether you did it directly or not, I won’t leave any stone unturned until I nail the bastard who did.”

 

Justin pursed his lips tightly together, the lines of exasperation clearly etched on his face.  “You can believe what you want, Detective.  I went to you in hopes I could help.  Do you think I wanted to just stand around while innocent children are being murdered?  Could you have done that?”

 

Brian stared down into the flashing blue eyes.  “No, but I don’t have your artistic ability to get my point across, either,” he pointed out haughtily.  “Nor do I have a need for attention.”

 

Justin stared at him incredulously.  “Is that what you think this is?  Some grandiose scheme to get publicity?  If you do, then you’re not as intelligent as I thought you were.” 

 

He sighed in resignation, realizing that he was going to be several minutes late now if he went to class and he wasn’t in the mood to have his professor’s wrath raining down upon him.  “I’ve told you everything I know, Detective.  And you’ve now succeeded in preventing me from attending my class.  It appears you’ve done a very thorough job of delving into my background already.  So just leave me alone now, okay?”

 

“No can do, Taylor.  I’m finding your whole story quite fascinating, however outlandish it may be.”

 

Justin met his gaze unflinchingly.  “I’m so glad,” he sarcastically quipped, finding the man’s use of the word fascinating a little odd under the circumstances.  “Have at it, then – you’ll find I’m not as ‘fascinating’ as you might think.  I don’t have anything to hide, Mr. Kinney,” he assured the other man softly.  “But maybe if you keep digging, you’ll finally begin to believe that and leave me the fuck alone.”  

 

Brian had no idea why the idea popped into his head but it was uttered from his lips before he could stop himself.  “Well, since you seem to have spare time on your hands all of a sudden, let’s go grab some coffee and you can try convincing me of that.  You know how information can get garbled when you get it second-hand.” 

 

Justin stared at the other man as if he were absolutely crazy; Kinney had more or less called him either an accomplice to a serial killer or worse the perpetrator himself and now he wanted to have a heart-to-heart chat with him over coffee?   

 

“Why in the fuck would I possibly be interested in having coffee with you?  Is Ted Bundy unavailable?” 

 

Brian curled his lips under, finding this fiery blond a definite puzzle as he considered Taylor’s feistiness.  Yes, for a man marked as a possible suspect to a horrendous crime, he certainly wasn’t acting guilty about it; in fact, he was being downright hostile toward him simply over the idea.  “Yeah, I hate to disappoint you, but your cohort’s already been tried, fried, and sent to Hell.  And I want to make sure this other bastard’s able to shake hands personally with him soon…..whoever it may be.”

 

Justin stared into the cocky, greenish-gold eyes of the classically-handsome detective.  This man was definitely full of himself and perhaps overly-confident about his investigative abilities.  But he was also passionate about wanting to catch the person who had murdered so many innocent little children.  At least they had that in common, then.  Maybe Kinney was right – if he did talk to him, perhaps he could at least convince him that he was innocent of any wrongdoing and simply wanted to help prevent any more murders from happening.  The way he looked at it, he really didn’t have anything to lose at this point.

 

He raised himself up to stand as erect as he could, realizing he would always look less dominating next to this commanding presence staring down so intently at him.  “Okay,” he answered with conviction.  “One coffee – you get one chance to learn everything there is to know about me.  Then I want you to leave me the fuck alone.”

 

Brian smirked, impressed at least by the other man’s brazenness.  “Lead the way then, Mr. Taylor.  I’m all ears.”

Chapter Text

Justin glanced up over his coffee cup to see Kinney eyeing him intently; the hazel eyes were practically boring into him and making him uncomfortable as hell; why had he agreed to this in the first place?  Oh, yeah, it was in hopes the man would get his curiosity sated and then leave him the fuck alone.  “What?” He said crossly.  “Are you a profiler, too?  You mean serial killers aren’t coffee drinkers?” 

 

Brian harrumphed.  “I’m not a profiler,” he responded, leaning back in his chair to gaze at the other man; if Taylor was involved in the murders, and it was the only plausible explanation because he didn’t believe in psychic bullshit, the man sure was awfully flippant about it.  He had been privy before to a few police interrogations at the station with people who had murdered, and he had always thought he was an excellent judge of character – after all, that was one of the reasons Horvath had made him detective – but this man was unlike any ‘murderer’ he had ever been in contact with.  Unlike most others, who either acted evasive and sullen when questioned, or bragged about what they had done, this man peering back at him seemed insulted and surly about him even staring at him too long.  He certainly didn’t fit any category of murderer he had ever seen, but he supposed there was always an exception to the rules.  Taylor knew way too much – and in vivid, stark detail – to simply be either an innocent bystander or, as he insisted, an artist with a ‘gift’ of clairvoyance.  There was no such thing as far as Brian was concerned. 

 

“Well?” the blond pressed.

 

“Well, what?” 

 

Justin huffed in irritation; this was quickly becoming a totally inane and useless conversation.  “This was your idea, remember?” he reminded him brusquely.  “So what do you want to know, Detective?  If you brought me here to see if I’m going to go into some kind of hypnotic trance and blurt out the killer’s identity all of a sudden, I hate to disappoint you but it doesn’t work that way.”

 

Justin was quickly beginning to feel that he should have just confided in Daphne about what he had seen and let it go at that; this Kinney was far too cynical and suspicious to be of any help.  The other man, Horvath, had at least seemed somewhat receptive to the idea that he could, indeed, foretell future events.  But neither of them apparently was willing to pursue the matter seriously, so what was the point?  It seemed all he had managed to do was just cast suspicion upon himself. 

 

“Just how does it work, Kreskin?” Brian drawled as he took a sip of his coffee and stared over at him.  The blond was definitely an enigma to him; the man’s blue eyes were flashing with annoyance over what he no doubt perceived as flippancy on his part, but he couldn’t help it.  Despite Taylor’s staunch contention that he was only trying to help, real life just didn’t happen that way; the only place where tarot card readers and witch doctor psychics solved murders was on detective shows, and the only ‘help’ they gave was after some poor schmuck plunked down cold, hard cash on their credit card to listen to their nonsense over the phone.  Still, as he gazed over at the man’s face whose lips were downturned into an almost rebellious pout, he had to admit – the man was definitely easy on the eyes and he certainly seemed righteously indignant at the moment. 

 

Justin sighed over the man’s sarcasm; he had no idea why he was even discussing this with the man.  He could tell he was taking it far too cavalierly.  “If I had the answer to that, Mr. Kinney, I could maybe find a way to prevent it.  It’s not like I want to see these things, you know.”  In fact, he would like nothing more than to be just like millions of other people in the world.  He would dearly love to go to bed at night and not have to worry about anything more than dreaming some absurd travelogue in his head in Technicolor or having some symbolic dream about being chased, or being awakened due to heartburn after he had had way too many chili dogs for dinner.  He would love to have those kinds of problems – not the one he was cursed with instead. 

 

Brian continued to eye the young artist carefully, finding he was having a hard time pegging this one.  He normally could tell within a heartbeat what a person’s motives were, but with Taylor?  There was just something about the man he couldn’t figure out.  “So in addition to being an artist, just how long have you had this ‘talent,’ Picasso?” he finally asked.  “And the name is Brian, by the way – by now I feel like we’re old friends, so why the formality?” he quipped sarcastically.

 

Justin rolled his eyes and shook his head in irritation; was this man deliberately trying to goad him or was he just like that with everyone?  He chose to ignore the snarky comment as he replied truthfully, “I’ve had it since I was a little kid.  I’m not sure when it started exactly, because for a long time I couldn’t figure out just what IT was.  All I knew was that I would dream about something and a few days later, I would find out that it came true.”  He took a deep breath.  “Except with this one; this is the first time I’ve seen something after it’s happened,” he whispered painfully, the image of the little boy’s body still fresh in his mind.   “And I’ve never had a vision or dream about someone that’s been……killed before.”  His tears glistened with moisture over the fate of the innocent life that some monster had taken – one of just a line of other murders apparently at the hands of the same person.  “As much as I fucking hate this gift,” – he spat out the last word in disdain – “I almost wish I had seen the first little boy instead of the last one; maybe then I could have at least somehow prevented the others from being killed.”  He bit his lower lip and his head dropped to stare down at the table in an attempt to keep from appearing weak in front of this other man, but inside his heart was breaking over his inability to stop what was happening; that had been the only reason in the first place why he had risked such ridicule and suspicion by going to the police.  Now, though, it appeared all his efforts had been for naught.  From the patronizing tone of his voice, he could tell this handsome detective was obviously still not buying his story; it didn’t take being a psychic to realize that.

 

Brian stared over at Taylor critically; just what game was this man playing?  Because he was very, very good at it; he was almost capable of persuading him that he really was being sincere.  But it was malarkey; envisioning events before they transpired was just not possible.  How many times, for instance, had kooks professed to have visions about the world coming to an end and then they wound up with no material possessions because their prediction didn’t come true?  If there really was such a thing as ESP, there’d be all kinds of zillionaires running around the world, rich beyond belief from winning horse races and poker showdowns and playing the stock market; it just didn’t exist, that’s all there was to it.  But still, his sergeant actually seemed to think it was possible, and why was his gut instinct – the one that was always spot on with everything else – telling him that this blond really did believe this nonsense? 

 

“Justin,” the detective began, causing the other man to raise his head up in reaction to the sound of his name, “you know how totally fucking implausible this sounds.  No one can predict the future, nor describe a crime scene in such great detail, without having prior knowledge of it; it just doesn’t happen,” he stated flatly, his eyes boring into the soft blue ones.  “Was it because of your bashing?” he asked unexpectedly, watching closely as a test of the other man’s reaction.  Typically when you struck a painful nerve with these types of attention seekers, they normally let certain pieces of critical information slip or their face gave them away; he saw none of the typical expression of guilt or evasiveness on the beautiful blond’s countenance, however, only stunned surprise.

 

Justin’s eyes widened in shock.  “What?” he croaked out, unable to believe what he had just heard.

 

“The date you had with the Louisville Slugger at your prom…..is that why you feel this need for attention?  Because you feel like that fucker Hobbs didn’t get what he deserved?  Is that why you’re lashing out at these innocent kids?  To feel some sort of distorted power over other helpless victims like yourself?”

 

Justin’s face reddened in fury as he abruptly scooted his chair back and stood up.   He was momentarily speechless over such an outrageous accusation.  “Fuck you!” he growled loudly, evoking some curious glares from nearby patrons who overheard him.  “I’m going to say it again, Detective Kinney……I had NOTHING to do with those murders!”  He looked over nervously as several pairs of eyes stared back at him in horror; the murders were on everyone’s mind lately and he had just uttered something that might be misinterpreted by others, but he was so angry at the moment, he didn’t care.

 

“I thought you really wanted to talk to me; really talk.  Well, fuck you!” he cried out angrily.  “Go ahead! Have at it!  Take a good, long look under your microscope at my whole life; I dare you!”  He reached over to scoop up his art portfolio and slid the strap over his head as he prepared to go.  “But don’t expect me to give you any more help along the way!”  He gave the brunet one more scathing look before he abruptly twirled around and marched towards the door, yanking it open with one hand and disappearing outside as he tromped determinedly down the sidewalk, not daring to look at anyone through the shop’s windows for fear they were still staring at him.

 

Brian looked around at the other coffee drinkers, almost daring them to challenge him, before he finally stood up and, taking one last swig of his own coffee, placed the paper cup down on the table and calmly walked out.

 

Well, that certainly hit a nerve, he thought to himself as he stood there thoughtfully, trying to decipher the other man’s almost violent reaction to his accusation.  His outburst either proved his point – that Taylor really was capable of the murders and was hiding something – or else it was the righteous indignation of the wrongly accused.  For some odd reason, he found himself actually hoping it was the latter, but he still refused to believe that anyone could simply conjure up these images in his mind.  He pushed his hands in his pockets to try and ward off some of the mid-day chill before he purposefully strode down the walkway toward his car.  He knew Horvath was due to conduct a press conference regarding the murders this afternoon, and he certainly wanted to discuss what he had found out with him beforehand, even though he wasn’t sure how enlightening his trip to Taylor’s college had been, or his coffee klatch with him.  The only goal he thought he had accomplished was stirring up some tendrils of doubt he was having about just what part Taylor played in all of this.

 

Realizing his sergeant’s press conference was still two hours away, though, gave him just enough time to have a quick lunch at a nearby diner with someone special.  He picked up his phone to dial a familiar number as he opened the car’s door to get in.

 

=================================  

 

Thirty Minutes Later –The ‘It’s the Fuzz’ Deli

 

Brian rolled his eyes and smirked at the cutesy name as he pulled up in front of the location where his lunch guest had suggested they meet; of course it would be have at a combination deli/ice cream parlor.  The small diner, located near the police station, frequently served several members of the ‘city’s finest,’ and its owner had intentionally played upon their location near the police station when he had named it about a year ago. 

 

Brian himself had eaten here fairly frequently despite the droll moniker; he grudgingly had to admit it did serve tasty soups and sandwiches along with the homemade ice cream that was its real draw.  Today he would have actually preferred to meet some place where a lot of his colleagues didn’t hang out, but it was where his special lunch companion had wanted to go, so he had reluctantly agreed.  Besides, he wanted to touch base with his sergeant before the press conference which was scheduled to be conducted shortly, and eating nearby would ensure that he could do just that.

 

As he walked up to the white with chrome-trim diner that was reminiscent of a 50’s establishment, he barely managed to open the glass front door before he heard a delighted screech and he found his heart warming at the sweetest sound in the world.  “Daddy!”

 

Brian’s face lit up and he broke out into a loving smile as his son came rushing up to greet him and the brunet knelt down to scoop his son up to cradle him in his arms.  “Hey, Sonny Boy!” he responded warmly.  “All set for lunch?” 

 

Gus nodded eagerly with a smile.  “Yeah…..but can we have ice cream first?” he asked, his face peering at Brian hopefully with the doe-eyed, chocolate-colored eyes and rosy cheeks that normally got him whatever he wanted where Brian was concerned.  But his father also knew the importance of his son eating properly, at least in between his occasional bouts of sweets indulgence.  “We’ll get you some ice cream after you eat something else first,” he gently told him.  “Don’t worry – you know your daddy always takes good care of you, right?” he whispered gently as Gus nodded. 

 

Brian began to carry his son over to one of the black and white booths located near the back of the restaurant, spying Lindsey sitting there as she waved back at him in response.  He also politely nodded to a couple of detectives he recognized from the precinct station, but he was enormously relieved to see that there weren’t a lot of others around; every time anyone saw him, whether it was in the police station or somewhere else, they invariably tried to probe him for any possible breaks in the serial killer case, and he preferred to spend this time just enjoying lunch with his son and Lindsey.  Besides, he knew not to divulge any more information than necessary in order to avoid jeopardizing what little bit of evidence they already had.

 

“Hey, Brian,” Lindsey said with a smile as the brunet slid into the booth’s seat across from his friend; Gus plopped down happily next to him and picked up a toy truck he had left on top of the table to pretend to drive it across the laminated surface as a waitress wearing a white, long-sleeved shirt and white uniform pants with a red-and-black checked apron came walking up to take their orders. 

 

Ordering a kid’s size hamburger, small onion rings and the diner’s trademark peach shake for his son, the two friends placed their salad orders with the woman before the employee strode away to leave them in private.

 

“You look tired, Brian,” his friend said, observing his tight-looking, drawn face and slightly haunted eyes.  “Good as always….but tired,” she kidded him with a grin as he pretended to stare back at her defensively.  “Is it that case?” she asked softly, not wanting to be too specific in front of their son but knowing instinctively that Brian would realize which one she was talking about – it was the one that had been consuming his attention for weeks now.

 

Brian sobered as he ran one hand through his hair to tousle it.  “Yeah…..Lindsey, the whole thing is so fu….messed up,” he amended as he glanced over at Gus who was continuing to play with his toy; he had taken some of the sugar and sweetener packets and loaded them into the truck’s bed for cargo as he slowly ‘drove’ it all around the top of the table.  “Horvath’s scheduled a press conference for this afternoon to go over it with the media, even though he’d rather not.”

 

“Why?” she asked, idly stirring her straw in her ice water.  “You don’t think it’s a good idea to keep the public informed?  I would think it would be prudent to tell the public at least part of it to help keep their children safe.”  She glanced over at their son who was totally unaware of the horrible murders taking place practically under his nose; she had purposely made sure Gus wasn’t anywhere near the television when the news came on.  She was frightened enough herself for her son without him having nightmares over it, also.  “I know it’s scaring me to death, Brian,” she whispered.  “I can’t let him out of my sight lately.  At least before I didn’t think I had to watch his every move whenever he was out in the backyard playing.  Now I don’t let him go anywhere unless I’m there with him, or Mel.”

 

Brian reached out to lightly ruffle his son’s hair as a lump unexpectedly formed in his throat over the thought of something happening to this miniature version of himself.  He had never thought he could feel the way he did about this child; when Lindsey had broached the idea of using his sperm to have a son, that was all he considered it – a donation of needed material.  He never in his wildest dreams thought he would actually grow to care about Gus, let alone love him; now he couldn’t think of his life without him.  “See that you don’t,” he said in a steely voice.  “You don’t know the half of it, Wendy….this monster is worse than even YOU can imagine, trust me.”  He looked over at Gus to make sure his son wasn’t paying any attention to his comment; fortunately he didn’t seem to paying his parents much mind as he continued to play with his truck while he made engine sounds under his breath.  “Promise me you won’t let him go anywhere without you or Mel watching him,” he pressed.   “Promise me.”

 

“I promise,” she vowed to her friend sincerely, reaching over to lay her hand reassuringly on top of his sleeved arm as Brian nodded, satisfied.  She stared sympathetically into his eyes.  “Have there been no breaks in the case at all?”  She knew they had to couch their conversation in generalities in front of their son, but she also knew how this case had been weighing her long-time friend down.  Her heart also went out to all the mothers and fathers who had lost their children to this maniac running around the city; she could only imagine the tremendous pain they must be feeling, but she knew she never wanted to ever be in their shoes. 

 

Brian reflected about the conversation he had had just a little earlier with Justin Taylor; he still wasn’t sure quite what to make of the man yet, but either way, he couldn’t discuss his opinions out in the open or divulge specific details about the case; there was just way too much at stake.  “Nothing tangible yet,” he said somewhat vaguely.  “You know I couldn’t discuss it even if there was,” he confided as Lindsey nodded in understanding.

 

Brian reached over and put his arm around his son to pull him closer to his body, needing some silent confirmation that Gus was all right, that he was by his side, and he wasn’t witness to all the horrors presently going on around him.  He had to grin fondly as his son glanced up at him with a tender smile of his own.  “Daddy, where’s my hamburger?” he asked curiously.  “My tummy’s hungry.”

 

Brian’s lips curled up into an amused smile.  “I’m sure it’s coming, Sonny Boy,” he said softly, squeezing his son’s shoulders once before loosening his hold on him as he noticed the waitress walking up with their plates of food.  He leaned down to whisper, “Here it is, Buddy.” 

 

While he watched his son digging into his hamburger and onion rings and slurping enthusiastically on his peach shake, Brian silently prayed that no one else would have to go through what seven other sets of parents had been through.  One thing he did know – he would give his own life to make sure no one hurt his only son. 

 

=========================

 

Same Time

 

“Hi, Honey!  What a nice surprise!” Jennifer exclaimed in delight as she opened her condo door; her face sobered, though, as she observed the somber expression on her son’s face.  “Justin?  What’s wrong?” she asked as she opened the door to let her son enter.

 

The blond walked in and placed his portfolio down on the couch, plopping alongside it and sighing heavily as he looked up at his worried mother.  “Mom….why have you never had any visions like Grandma and me?” he asked unexpectedly. 

 

Jennifer frowned at her son’s question that had come out of left field.  “I’m not sure, Sweetheart,” she answered honestly, shrugging.  “I guess just like eye color, maybe those kinds of things can skip a generation.”  She walked over to sit down in a matching overstuffed chair to face her son as he huffed disdainfully in response.

 

“Lucky me,” he muttered, placing his head in his hands and resting his elbows on his knees as he bowed his head, his shoulders sagging.

 

“Justin?  What’s going on?” she asked softly.  “Have you had another vision?”  Her son normally wasn’t the most forthcoming when it came to his visions – perhaps hoping that if he didn’t mention it to anyone, maybe another one wouldn’t happen somehow but it always did eventually.  The last time she recalled him admitting he had had some premonition of an event to come, though, it had been at least a few years ago.  “Justin?” she repeated when he didn’t answer.  “What’s happened?”  Her heart dropped as her son raised his head and looked at her and she noticed the pain written all over his face.

 

“Mom….you know about the little boys being killed, right?”  He knew his mother was an avid paper reader so she had to know what was going on, but he asked her anyway. 

 

Sure enough, she nodded almost instantly.  “Yes, of course….it’s absolutely horrible.  Who would do such a terrible thing to innocent children?  I normally don’t support the death penalty, but when they find this guy I believe this is one monster they need to execute,” she said with conviction.  She frowned, wondering why her son was bringing this unpleasant topic up now.  “Why are you asking me this?” she asked with just a hint of trepidation.

 

“There’s at least one detective down at the police station that thinks the killer’s me,” he said simply. 

 

His mother looked at him incredulously as her brows narrowed in mystification.  “Honey, what are you talking about?  That’s the most outlandish thing I’ve ever heard!”

 

Justin sighed as he looked into her eyes, so much like his own.  “I’ve been having these visions lately.  At first I didn’t really know what they meant – they were more like feelings or vague, swirling objects or tiny unidentified voices.  But then last night I had a more vivid dream…..a horrible dream,” he revealed, taking a shuddering breath. 

 

“Mom….I saw this little boy’s body dumped on a hill by a ravine.  It was so real, so detailed.  I could even hear this man’s voice telling the little boy to go back to sleep, before I saw…..I saw him dead.”  His eyes clouded over in pain at the recollection, still so raw in his mind even now.  He took a deep breath before adding, “I drew everything down as soon as it happened because it was so real.”  He bit his lip apprehensively.  “Mom….I just knew it was one of those children being killed, and I knew I had to do something.”

 

Jennifer rose from her chair quietly to take Justin’s portfolio and place it against the side of the couch so she could sit down next to him.  “Oh, Honey, I’m so sorry,” she cooed sympathetically.  “That must have been awful for you.” 

 

Justin rubbed his hands over his face as she placed one hand on his shoulder comfortingly.  “Yeah, it was,” he whispered back to her.  “It was like I could feel the little boy’s pain myself,” he said, shivering from the remembrance.  “I still can.”

 

Jennifer’s heart went out to her son before she remembered Justin’s comment from earlier.  “Justin, what do the police have to do with this?  You went and talked to them? You said something about one of the detectives thinking you’re the killer.” She gazed at him in disbelief.  “Surely you’re kidding, Justin,” she added with her mouth open in shock, realizing from her son’s expression, though, that he was anything but kidding.  “How in the hell could they think that?” she asked defensively as she rubbed her hand soothingly over her child’s back.  Anyone who looked at the beautiful, angelic face of her son would know he was certainly no killer – especially of little children.  Her son’s face totally lit up whenever he held a baby in his arms or he saw children playing at the park.  Her son loved to sketch them, not kill them.  Just the thought of it was too ludicrous to even imagine.

 

Justin sighed.  “After what I saw, I decided to go down to the police station with the sketch I made,” he explained.  “I met with some police sergeant and a detective,” he told her, his mind instantly lighting on the handsome, almost arrogant brunet that was constantly invading his mind lately.  “They took one look at my sketch and decided I knew too much to simply be conjuring up the picture in my mind.”

 

Jennifer’s hand stopped on her son’s back in anger.  “That’s absolute nonsense, Justin!” she growled.  “What’s wrong with them?  You were trying to help and they start throwing accusations at you?”

 

Justin snorted.  “Well, the sergeant was at least willing to entertain the thought that it was possible; the other man, though – the detective – obviously didn’t believe me.”  He shook his head sadly; he had actually thought he might have been making some headway with Kinney – that is, until his outrageous comment about the bashing at his prom.  His face contorted in pain for a couple of seconds as he thought about that fateful, terrible night – even now, that particular memory was a vivid one as well -  before he forced himself to concentrate on the present and he looked back at his mother, who was eyeing him with concern.

 

“Let’s just say that they were skeptical,” he told her dryly.  “I guess my vision was a little too vivid for their comfort level.  They told me I had details in there that no one else but the killer himself or an accomplice would know.  The detective even came to my school today to do some digging around.”

 

Jennifer was aghast as well as perturbed at that revelation.  She bristled at the thought of her sweet, well-meaning son being subjected to such scathing distrust and suspicion, especially when he was trying to help them.  From what she had read, the police had no real idea what they were up against and had no substantial leads.  “That’s ridiculous, Honey,” she growled.  “You were only trying to help and they’re obviously still grasping at straws; I hope you just told them to fuck off.”

 

Justin had to chuckle at little at his mother’s unexpectedly strong condemnation and choice of words.  “Well, I’m not sure when you’re dealing with the police that it’s a good idea to tell them that,” he pointed out.  “I actually tried to be civil and sit down with the detective over coffee earlier today, even after I ran into him at school and he told me what he was doing there.  But the man is so damned cocky that I got fed up with him and left.  The sergeant at the station still has my sketch, too.”

 

Jennifer started.  “They kept your sketch?”

 

Justin nodded.  “Yeah…the sergeant asked me if he could keep it, and I saw no reason why not; I’m not trying to hide anything from them.”  He shuddered again.  “I certainly never want to see it again.”  He closed his eyes in agony as the vision washed over him again; even though he always made a point of drawing what he had seen in his visions, he knew with this particular sketch he would have no need to keep it.  Even if he wanted to forget about it, that mental picture of the little, pajama-clad boy wearing a primitively-colored, swirling- designed heart on his chest would stay in his mind forever.

 

He opened his eyes again to see his mother peering back at him worriedly.  He licked his lips to moisten them, finding his throat inexplicably dry before confiding sorrowfully, “Mom…….When I went there, I thought it was just like all my other visions.  I thought I was seeing something that was about to happen, and I was hoping to prevent it this time; that’s the main reason why I went there.”

 

“I know, Justin,” his mother replied sympathetically.  “I’m sorry they didn’t listen to you.  But maybe you’ll still be able to do that through the sketch.” Her son shook his head sadly, though, as she frowned in confusion.  “But you were saying how detailed it was….surely that will be of some help to them.”

 

“No, Mom, you don’t understand,” Justin said, shaking his head as he stared down at his knees.  “What I saw wasn’t about to happen; this time it already had.”  He sucked in a shaky breath as he heard his mother gasp softly.  “That’s what makes this so hard,” he told her as he looked up at her.  “Mom, he killed another child and it was like he was putting the blueprint of it in my mind to taunt me!  Why?  Why me?  I don’t want this fucking ‘gift,’ Mom!” he cried out angrily.  “Let someone else be the cop’s suspect!  Let someone else creep inside this monster’s mind and live there!  I don’t want it anymore!”

 

He stood up abruptly, too restless and agitated now to sit still, as he walked over to his mom’s front window and peered out, noticing a group of about six children playing on someone’s front lawn directly across from him on the other side of his mom’s rather small parking lot.  He shook his head in anger.  “How can their mothers let them play out there?” he asked in disbelief, seeing no adult nearby.  “Are they out of their fucking mind?”  He whirled to stare in astonishment at his mother.  What was wrong with those people?  If they had seen even part of what he had seen, they wouldn’t never let their children out of their sight at all……

 

Jennifer came to stand next to her son, curving her hand on top of his shoulder.  “I don’t know, Honey,” she said softly.  “Maybe they don’t realize the danger, or maybe they think their child is impervious to being harmed.  Maybe they think it’s a big city and the odds are against anything happening.  Maybe their child bugged them so much they couldn’t take it anymore and gave in.  Who knows?” she asked as she gave Justin’s slender shoulder a squeeze.  “It’s crazy, I know,” she told him sadly.  “But we’re not their parents and as much as we might like to do something about it, we can’t.  Just like you can’t help what you’re seeing, Justin.  I have no idea why I was spared what you’re having to go through.  But I think maybe God gave it to you for a reason.”

 

Justin turned to face her in scorn.  “Why, Mom?  Why would he want to torment me with this?  What kind of God is that?” he asked, the pain evident in his voice for all the innocent children that had been lost so far.  “What possible good could this ‘talent’ do?” he asked, his tone dripping with scorn.

 

“It can hopefully save another mother from going through the agony of losing their child,” she told him quietly.  She sighed.  “Justin, like I said, there’s no way of knowing why you were given this to bear.  But I know you, and I know you won’t rest until you do everything in your power to prevent another child from being harmed.  I think that’s why you were given this terrible responsibility.”  She reached over to gather her child into a hug as she felt the slender body trembling in her arms.  Her eyes filled with tears of sorrow over the burden her son had to carry, but it wasn’t something that could be ignored or simply wished away.  “For better or worse, Honey, this ability has been given to you.  You have no choice but to accept it and turn it around to do good with it, or it will tear you apart.”

 

Justin took a deep breath and let it out before he pulled back slightly to gaze into his mother’s loving eyes.  “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that, Mom,” he told her truthfully, voicing his greatest fear. “What if another little boy gets killed?  I don’t think I could live with myself if that happened.”

 

Jennifer reached up to cup her son’s face as she stared into the troubled blue eyes.  “Justin…this isn’t your fault.  You can only do what you can do.  If anyone, though, can somehow prevent another one of these children from being hurt by using this awful ‘gift,’ I know you can.  I know it’s really hard, but if you get another vision or remember anything more about last night, write it down; draw it, only the way you can draw it.  I think you were given both of these talents so they can work together to save more children from harm.  Don’t let those ignorant, stupid cops keep you from trying to help; don’t give in to defeat.  You know it’s real – use it.  Keep pressing them until they listen to you, until they believe you.”  She gazed at him in great concern.  “Just don’t try anything on your own, Justin; the monster who’s doing this is dangerous.” 

 

Justin nodded.  He knew his mother was right – there was nothing he could do to prevent the visions from occurring, but he could keep insisting the police listen to him. He had no choice; he could not have the blood of even one more innocent child on his hands because he did nothing to prevent it. He only hoped that one detective in particular would finally realize he was trying to help and was telling the truth.  Either way, he had a feeling today wasn’t going to be the last time he dealt with him.

 

He took a calming breath, making a decision, the only decision he COULD make.  “I’ll try, Mom,” he whispered at last.  “I’ll try.”

Chapter Text

Pittsburgh Police Precinct No 16 – 2:50 p.m.

 

Carl hung up the phone and turned around behind his desk to face Brian. "Well, looks like we've got a standing-room only crowd for the press conference outside," he advised the younger man. "I just hope this turns out to be a good idea." He rubbed the back of his head restlessly and sighed. "I'll have to weigh what I say very carefully to the media. There's a fine line between preserving critical details and not having the public feel like we're holding back on information they might need to protect their kids."

 

Brian leaned back in his chair and eyed his boss. "You don't have any choice, Sarge; the public's too outraged over what's happened to just ignore the situation."

 

Carl nodded as he picked up the newly-created dossier on Justin Taylor, the mysterious man who had suddenly wondered into the police station with an outlandish story about envisioning the killer and one of his victims in his head and had drawn up a sketch with incredible – and as of yet unreported - details. In addition to the sketch tucked inside the folder, Brian had written up a brief report summarizing the details of his investigation at Taylor's school earlier today and had also included a brief synopsis of their impromptu meeting over coffee. It probably wouldn't have been his own method of scoping the man out – having coffee with the potential killer seemed a bit unusual – but then again, Brian wasn't your typical detective, either; his methods, while unorthodox, always seemed to get results more times than not. He trusted Brian's instincts implicitly, but he was getting the impression that his detective hadn't quite formulated an accurate opinion of the man yet, either.

 

He studied the picture of Taylor that his detective had obtained at the PIFA office and dropped the folder back down onto his desk. "So what's your take on this kid, Kinney?" he asked, his steel-blue eyes staring back at his brash detective.

 

Brian gazed back at him thoughtfully, recalling his rather contentious meeting with Justin Taylor a few hours ago. He had mulled over in his mind that same question over and over again ever since the young blond had so indignantly rushed out of the coffee shop, his blue eyes flashing with anger over his comment about the assault he had sustained at his prom. Was the reaction he had gotten real, genuine fury over what he perceived as a wrongful stab at his character, or had he hit too close to the mark and the man was afraid of being detected for what he truly was – a cold-blooded killer of young children? As he thought about Taylor's demeanor and the strong emotion evident in his voice as he talked about his 'gift' and the children he had seen and heard in his visions, he couldn't help thinking that while he still didn't believe in all that psychic nonsense, he didn't actually believe the man was a killer, either. So just what was he?

 

"Brian?"

 

He started, realizing his sergeant was still waiting for an answer. He focused his attention back to the present as he stated, "Jury's still out on him, Boss. Although, I'm leaning toward him not being the actual killer. That still doesn't mean that he's not involved somehow," he hastened to add. "There've been a lot of cases where someone brings notice to themselves just to get special attention. Some fuckers really get off on that kind of thing; he could be one of them."

 

"That would mean he's at least either indirectly involved or has some sort of second-hand knowledge of it."

 

Brian nodded his head as he crossed his hands over his chest. "Yeah…..it's got to be one or the other. Either he's directly involved with assisting the actual murderer, or he's friends or acquaintances with someone who is. That's the only logical explanation for the drawing he made. Nobody could just dream that up like he claims he did."

 

Horvath nodded, still not quite convinced that the young man wasn't the genuine article and really was psychic somehow; it wouldn't be the first time he had come across a situation he had never encountered before. It did seem pretty outlandish a possibility, however. "Well, we'll have to monitor his activities very closely until we can determine just what his stake is in all of this. But I'm certainly not going to tip our hat about him at the press conference; he wouldn't be the first person to take some ungodly amount of money from some tabloid or news show in exchange for bragging about what he knows, and I'm afraid that's what would happen if the press got wind of his claim." He gazed over at his nonconformist detective as he stated, "I don't want too many hands involved with this murder investigation, Kinney, and you've already established at least a working relationship with Taylor. I want you to continue to keep tabs on him personally."

 

Brian huffed. "I don't think we're exactly bosom buddies now," he quipped, recalling Taylor's diatribe aimed at him earlier. "I told you what happened at the coffee shop."

 

Horvath nodded. "I'm not asking you to take over as president of his fan club, Kinney; but I need someone I can trust who will keep his mouth shut when it needs to be. I'm nominating you for the job."

 

Brian could tell by the resolute set of his sergeant's jaw that he wouldn't take no for an answer; besides, he found Taylor to be quite the enigma, and he liked a challenge. He never backed down from one, especially one as important as this. Way too many young lives had been cruelly snuffed out already; they had been given this unexpected gift from a man he still couldn't quite decipher, and they needed to take advantage of whatever it was. They couldn't afford to waste this opportunity. He finally nodded his head. "Okay. I'll keep an eye on him until we can figure out just what his role in all of this is."

 

Horvath stood up and grabbed his charcoal-gray suit jacket hanging over the back of his worn, wooden desk chair. "Good….Now if you'll excuse me, I have a meeting with some wolves outside." He walked out from behind his desk as Brian stood up as well.

 

"Mind if I join you?" he asked his boss; just like staking out the cemeteries, he figured it wasn't a bad idea to scope out people who attended the public briefings. It wasn't unheard of for a perpetrator to show up to gloat silently about his success; he decided it would be a good idea to study the press pool while they were grilling his boss. "I think I'd like to take a good look at who's attending."

 

Carl nodded, realizing the basis for his request; that was one of the reasons why Brian was so good at what he did. He seemed to excel at covering all the bases in an investigation. His methods may be different from his, and he may try to skirt the rules from time to time, but you could never question the end results he always seemed to achieve. "Yeah, sure," Carl told him as he walked toward the door. "The more the merrier."

 

Brian smirked as he followed his boss out toward the sea of piranhas waiting for them just outside the back door.

 


 

Same Time – Near the Outskirts of Pittsburgh

 

The man hummed softly as he carefully folded the boy's short-sleeved shirt and placed it on top of the other clothes in the antique, curved, mahogany humpback trunk. The pants always went on the left side, folded lengthwise in half, and the shirts went on the right side. The shirts had to be folded just so – the sleeves angled inward first, and then the shirt neatly folded into thirds before it was lovingly placed in the trunk. He never kept the rest of the clothing or the shoes; only the pieces of apparel that he replaced when he gave each boy their final bath and dressed them in a clean, brand-new pair of matching pajamas before they took their final journey and joined his own son in heaven.

 

The pajamas he chose to purchase for his victims were always ones with either tractors or race cars on them; it was fitting since his son had dearly loved the John Deere miniature riding tractor he had given him for his 7th birthday, and they had spent many a weekend attending Sprint car races together. After his wife had died of cancer a few years ago, his son had become his lifeline, his confidante, and his best friend. He told him his fondest dreams for him at night before he tucked him into bed, took him on fishing trips to the mountains, even cooked simple meals with him as the little, dark-haired boy chatted animatedly about his day in school. It really hadn't mattered what they had done as long as they did it together. Now, however, he would never again have the chance to do any of that ever again.

 

He slammed the top of the chest down as a wave of pain hit him and his face contorted in anger. Such a stupid, stupid mistake; one reckless error and a life that had meant more to him than his own had been snuffed out instantly and forever. He leaned his upper body over the top of the chest in weariness and rested his head in his hands, the grief still raw and fresh even after almost a year. "Tommy," he cried softly for several minutes as he thought about what he had lost, the tears serving somehow to assuage his torment, however briefly, as he continued to weep.

 

Finally, his tears all spent, he raised his red, swollen eyes to gaze over at the portrait of his son on the fireplace mantle nearby; it had always been one his favorite pictures – Tommy wearing his green and yellow-bibbed farmer overalls and matching cap, proudly sitting on top of his tractor as he waved excitedly at him; it had been taken the day of his 7th birthday and he had been so excited to see his new toy. He had spent literally hours on that ride-on toy, until the battery had finally ran out of juice and had to be recharged over and over again. Now, the well-loved and cherished toy was sitting in a storage shed out back behind his recently-purchased home; it was at once much too difficult to see it every day while at the same time too painful to give his son's most cherished possession away, so for now it remained in limbo in its hiding place.

 

The secluded, old farmhouse he had purchased a few months ago had intrigued him with all the drafty, Victorian nooks and crevices and the multitude of spacious, tall-ceilinged rooms, and this upstairs bedroom located in the far back corner had quickly become his favorite. It was where he had set up the shrine for his son and gave him comfort when the grief threatened to overwhelm him. It was where he prepared each child for their last journey on their way to keeping his son company in heaven; only through the knowledge and assurance that his son was not alone was he able to function anymore, and the paper hearts he lovingly created for each child was a symbol to Tommy that his father, while he couldn't be there yet physically, we very much with him in his heart until they could be reunited again.

 

He sighed as he stood up and walked over to his son's portrait, surrounded on either side by a memorial candle encased in a tall, frosted-glass container depicting farm scenes on its surface. He gently touched a couple of fingers to his lips before placing them on his son's picture. "I love you, son," he softly told him. "We almost have enough now for a baseball team," he said with a smile. "Don't worry – I'll find you a couple more soon."

 

Turning to walk a few steps over to a nearby, square-shaped wooden telephone table, he pulled out the small drawer underneath to retrieve the construction paper, colored markers and scissors. "I think you'll need a shortstop next," he told his son as he took the materials and walked over to the side of a double-sized bed outfitted with John Deere bedding. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he pulled out a single sheet of the yellow-colored construction paper and folding it in half, began to slowly fashion out his next paper heart. A few minutes later, he smiled in satisfaction as he unfolded the almost perfect-shape. "Now how shall we decorate this one, Son?" he asked out loud. "I know! I'll put the number 3 all over this one! You always did like Helio the best." Reaching over to where he had laid the markers, he picked up the red colored one and began to meticulously draw the first racing digit on the heart's surface. Soon….it would be time to find another companion for his little angel up in heaven…..Very soon.

 


 

Two Days Later – Steel City Food Store

 

Justin struggled to juggle the two large brown paper bags he held in front of him as he exited the grocery store while he tried to maintain his balance; he liked shopping here for groceries but he hated the fact that they didn't give him the option of plastic bags. The paper ones may be more ecologically responsible, but when it came to seeing where he was going, they were like a disaster waiting to happen; the bagger has seen fit to cram both bags so full he was having difficulty peering around them to see what was in front of him.

 

As if he had sealed his own destiny, he stepped down from the berm separating the sidewalk from the parking lot and, not catching the lower surface properly, felt himself beginning to trip. Visions of the dozen eggs he had just purchased dropping into a cracked, gooey heap on the pavement, along with oranges rolling down the gutters entered his head as he felt himself falling and knew he had nothing to help break his tumble.

 

Imagine his surprise, therefore, when he felt a hand firmly gripping his forearm to steady himself and prevent the two bags from tipping over and scattering all of his hard-earned groceries onto the unyielding, cement ground.

 

"Well, you may have artistic talent, but you obviously aren't very coordinated," he heard a familiar voice reply sarcastically from the other side of his paper bags.

 

Justin knew that voice. He lowered his bags enough to stare into the smirking face of the cocky detective he had encountered the other day and he glared back at his own reflection as shown through the dark-tinted sunglasses the other man was wearing. With his dark-brown, well-worn, unzipped leather jacket, a pair of jeans that fit him to a tee, and his long-sleeved, navy-blue linen shirt, open a couple of buttons at the top to expose some of the bronze-colored flesh, this man definitely didn't fit any picture he had ever conjured up about what a police detective normally looked like. That still didn't make him especially fond of the guy, though. "Are you stalking me again?" he retorted. "You want to check my bags to see if I bought any butcher knives? Better check them real closely – I think they sell rope and masking tape inside, too."

 

Brian smirked; whether Taylor was directly or indirectly involved with the murders or not, he was certainly a cheeky little shit. "I'll pass this time," he responded, twisting one side of his mouth up as he studied the agitated young man eyeing him with aggravation. "But thanks for the tip."

 

Justin huffed in exasperation as he tried to sidestep the taller man and just go around him; naturally, however, Kinney had other ideas as he began to walk alongside him as he continued toward Daphne's car that he had borrowed. "What do you want?" he asked the detective curtly as he whirled around to face the other man, quickly adjusting his hold on his bags again for fear he would lose his tenuous grip on them. "Are you going to follow me wherever I go now? Aren't you afraid I'll tell the killer to lay low for a while because you're on to him, or are you hoping the guy gave me his shopping list and I'll be delivering his groceries now?" The words continued to tumble out as he added sarcastically, "Oh, wait, I forgot; you think I'M the killer. Well, I hate to disrupt your game plan, Mr. Kinney, but the only killing I'm planning on doing this afternoon is with time while I prepare for my mid-terms. So why don't you just go track down some legitimate leads for a while?"

 

Brian reached over and took one of the bags from Justin, who huffed in aggravation at his brashness. "I'm just doing my job, Taylor," he told the blond, studying the annoyed look on his face. The man was quite attractive, he had to admit, with his golden, straight hair, smooth pale skin, full lips and crystal-blue eyes that were currently lit up in righteous-looking anger. If he was the killer – or more likely an accomplice or acquaintance of his – then he was definitely the hottest-looking one he had ever seen. "That's what the grunt cops are for," he told Justin. "I get the more interesting leads to follow up on."

 

Justin harrumphed as he resumed his trek toward Daphne's car, his own personal investigator keeping regular stride with him. "I'm so flattered that you find me so intriguing," he quipped curtly as Brian continued to keep pace with him perfectly with his long, lean legs. "But if I were you, I'd be devoting your time to finding the real killer, Mr. Kinney."

 

"Oh, so we're back to Mr. Kinney again?"

 

"Yes," Justin told him as he hastened to dig the car key out of his jeans pocket and place it in the trunk's lock. Raising the door up, he placed the bag he had been carrying inside the car before turning to face his 'admirer.' Brian studied him closely as he grabbed the bag away from the detective and placed it next to the other one. "I reserve first names for friends, not overzealous cops that have a vendetta against me."

 

Brian had the audacity to snicker. "I don't know you well enough to have some secret agenda or a vendetta," he maintained as he stared into the defiant blue eyes. "But I am a good judge of character; and I think you know a lot more about these killings than you're letting on. No one just conjures up what you did without having inside knowledge."

 

Justin sighed and shook his head in exasperation, feeling like he was in some Groundhog Day movie. "So we're back to that again, are we?" He roughly pushed the trunk's gate back down as he turned to face his dogged companion. "Well, you're not as good a judge of character as you think you are, Detective. Because read my lips: I had NOTHING to do with the killings! All I wanted was to try and help prevent another one from happening." He scratched the back of his head in frustration. "I don't know what else I can do to convince you, but you know what? I really don't give a fuck! I'm done with the police. Maybe the next time I have a vision I'll just bypass all of you altogether and just go to the press."

 

His eyes widened and his heart leapt to his throat as Brian promptly grabbed onto his wrist as he started to head toward the driver's side door to leave.

 

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" the blond growled. Let me go, you asshole!"

 

Yep, Brian thought, this man is definitely an impertinent little twat. "Didn't anyone ever teach you to respect the law?" he drawled.

 

"Respect has to be earned, not just handed to you," Justin retorted, a little apprehensive in the company of such a strong personality but not backing down just the same. He snatched his wrist free of the brunet's grasp and stared up at him defiantly.

 

"If you go to the press, you risk jeopardizing everything we've accomplished so far," Brian informed him.

 

"From what I've seen, you don't have a whole lot of clues to jeopardize," Justin pointed out.

 

Brian silently had to agree with him – they didn't have a lot to go on yet; but the blond did know enough – such as the killer's calling card and the change of clothing for each victim – to do a lot of damage to their case if he were to go to the media with what he knew. Whether he knew about it personally, or through some miracle actually did dream it up, either way he could cause a great deal of harm to solving the case and preserving the undisclosed clues they did have. "I wouldn't do that if I were you," he warned him. "If I find out that you've so much as even emailed or picked up the phone to call the press, I'll promptly throw your hot little bubble butt in jail where the bull queers there can take turns having a good time with you." He smirked at Justin's brief look of fear before the vulnerable-looking image was erased from the beautiful face to be replaced with one of anger.

 

"You wouldn't dare," Justin challenged him, his blue eyes darkening as he tried to keep his voice calm and assured. But inside, his heart was pounding rapidly at the thought of Kinney following through on his promise; the man was probably just cocky and bullheaded enough to do just that.

 

"Try me, Blondie," Brian retorted, arching his eyebrows. "It's up to you. I, for one, intend to make sure whoever the fucker is who's killing all these kids gets what's coming to him – no matter who it is."

 

Justin snorted as he placed his hands on his hips. "Do you think I'd be stupid enough to go to the press if I'm involved with any of it?"

 

Brian shrugged, not really believing that someone so 'normal' looking – well, more than normal looking – could be a cold-blooded killer. But if he had learned one lesson from being a police detective, it was that things weren't always what they seemed. "I've seen stranger," he replied haughtily. "Haven't you ever heard of publicity hogs? They'll do anything to get attention," he explained, leaning in to stare into the defiant blue eyes. "How do I know you're not a card-carrying member?"

 

Justin harrumphed. "You are fucking unbelievable!" He huffed loudly in total disgust. "That's it! I'm just going to mind my own damn business from now on, and I suggest you do the same! Just leave me the fuck alone, Kinney!" He stomped back up to the driver's side door and, yanking it open, slammed it immediately before the brunet could respond to his tirade.

 

He quickly started up the car and began to back it out, almost hitting Brian in the process. As the brunet jumped back from the car just in time to avoid being side-swiped, he couldn't help staring at the quickly-retreating vehicle as the screech of tires was heard. Once more, his logic and common sense warred with his intuition; people just didn't dream up details and events like this man did, and yet deep down he truly didn't feel Taylor had anything to do with the murders. The blond was just too vehement about his innocence, too disgustingly righteous in his fury. But if he was innocent of any wrongdoing, how could he explain the man's uncanny details in his drawing – details that only the killer would normally know? He knew there was one explanation, but he still refused to believe it. ESP and psychics only existed in an attempt to scam unknowing and gullible victims out of their hard-earned money or to elicit fame. Shaking his head as the car disappeared out of sight, he slowly walked back over to his own vehicle, pondering his next step.

 

"Damn asshole!" Justin muttered loudly to himself as he looked in the rearview mirror to see Kinney still standing where he had left him, staring after him as if he had x-ray vision. "What a jerk!" he added, still upset that the man was still accusing him of being involved. And when he had threatened to throw him in jail if he went to the media, he had become livid at the thought. And yet, the man was passionate in his steadfast resolve to catch the person who had murdered so many innocent lives, and he would have to be blind as they stood so close together not to notice how damn attractive the man was. So why did he have to be so fucking cocky and pompous to boot? Well, despite his strong conviction that the press could be helpful in alerting the public as to what to look for, he couldn't risk being put in jail. Just the thought of some muscled strongman pawing him – or worse – in the confines of a cell while the jail warden looked the other way frightened the hell out of him. He had done all that he could do, anyway; he had gone to the police with his information and they had his sketch of the only vision he had experienced in regard to the murders. Let the police take care of finding the killer, he decided. After all, that was their job, not his…..He sighed, hoping that this last encounter with the handsome but overly-confident police detective would be the last confrontation he would have to endure with him.

 


 

Two Nights Later – 2:30 a.m. – Justin and Daphne's Apartment…

 

Do you like puppies, Buddy?

Well, I have a whole bunch of them right over there.

All sorts of colors and sizes! And they love little boys! They'll give you some wet puppy-dog kisses!

Maybe your mommy would let you take one home, too….

Would you like to see them? I'll let you pick out whichever one you want, okay? It'll just take a minute…

 

"NO! God, please, no!" Justin bolted upright in the bed, his hair plastered to his sweaty face while his breath came out in rapid pants as if he had just run a marathon. He covered his face in his hands in agony. "No….not again," he wailed softly, bringing his knees up and wrapping his hands around them, rocking back and forth in agitation, his eyes wet with tears. "Please….," he pleaded, hoping somehow that his most desperate wish would be granted and that what he had just seen was simply some terrible, awful nightmare. But it was no use; he knew the awful truth. Another boy was about to be murdered, or perhaps had been already. A doe-eyed boy with dark hair, rosy cheeks and a cherub face. It was happening again….and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

 


The Next Morning – Brian's Loft

 

"Got everything, Buddy?" Brian asked his son, reaching down to pick up the little boy's overnight bag. He would never admit this to another living being, but he had thoroughly enjoyed having his son spend the night with him last night; they had ordered in some gooey, totally unhealthy carb-laden pizza after visiting the local bowling alley to play a few games. Of course, Gus' ball more often than not landed immediately in the gutter, but he hadn't seemed to mind; he had giggled his way through the entire experience, and had made Brian laugh along with him every time he jumped up and down in glee and clapped his hands, just like he had scored a strike every time.

 

Gus nodded his head as Brian ruffled the hair on top of his head. "Now don't forget, Sonny Boy," he told him, reaching over to grab his son's Pirates cap from the nearby counter and placing it on top of his head. "We're going to the ballgame Sunday, okay? Hot dogs and peanuts!"

 

Gus beamed. "Yay! Can I wear my new shirt, Daddy?" he asked, referring to the new baseball jersey Brian had purchased for him last week. He figured if they were going to become regular ballgame buddies, the least he could do was make sure his son was appropriately attired.

 

Brian smiled. "You bet, Sonny Boy! And we'll take your baseball glove, too, in case we can catch a ball, okay?"

 

Gus nodded excitedly as Brian took his small hand and guided him over to the loft door. "Well, then, we'd better get going or you're going to be late for school," he told his son. As he closed the door behind him, he scooped up the miniature version of himself into his arms to hurry them along. As they entered the elevator and Gus doffed his cap to place it playfully on his father's head, Brian smiled at him affectionately and his heart swelled. God, I love you so fucking much, Gus, he couldn't help thinking as he nuzzled the side of his son's neck and made him giggle in delight.

 

Exiting the loft's brick building, Brian gently placed his son back on the ground as hand-in-hand they walked toward Brian's Corvette, totally oblivious to a man in a black pickup truck watching them intently from several yards away. As Brian latched his son's seat belt and walked around to slide his lanky frame into the driver's seat, his movements were intently watched by the other man. As he slowly pulled out into traffic, the man quickly started up his own vehicle and followed him at a reasonable distance. Soon, Tommy…..soon.

 

Chapter Text

One Hour Later – Police Precinct No. 16

 

The wood of the conference room table was barely apparent underneath the sea of paperwork currently spread out on top of it; perhaps until that moment, Brian hadn't quite realized just how bureaucratic police work was until he got a good look at how many documents were involved with the Paper Hearts Killer case. Because even though they still had relatively little to go on regarding the killers' identity, there was still a ton of paperwork that went along with it.

 

He heard Horvath sigh from his place next to a barred, dirty window looking out over the sidewalk below before the older man lifted his navy-blue coffee cup to his lips and took a sip; he knew before his superior said a word what he was going to say because it echoed the same thoughts in his own mind. "All this fucking paperwork," the older man growled under his breath, shaking his head. "Even a profile of the possible killer, and we still don't know who it is."

 

One of the police profilers had provided what she thought was her best educated guess as to what sort of person the killer might be: male, middle-aged, Caucasian, mainly a loner. He probably held a responsible job, perhaps one that allowed him movement during the day when the kidnappings took place so his occasional lapses in time would not be questioned, and he possibly had a job using a service vehicle of some sort. In short, just the sort of person who would not stand out in anyone's mind.

 

The contradiction between the image of the killer this profiler had drawn and their only suspect so far, Justin Taylor, did not go unnoticed by Brian. He realized the two images didn't mesh at all. But he also knew that profilers weren't always accurate; this case was unlike any they had ever experienced before and he hoped to hell they never did again. Despite what she had come up with for a working theory, he felt that in no way removed Taylor from suspicion. He supposed it did manage to help build a little more credence to the idea that Taylor was more of a participant than the actual killer. In Brian's eyes, though, accomplice or not, he was just as guilty of the actual crime if he had any hand in it at all. None of these innocent lives deserved what had happened to them, and he was going to make damned sure that everyone involved in them was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Hopefully that meant frying the bastards, he couldn't help thinking.

 

He found his thoughts drifting to his own son as he glanced at some of the victims' photos; he had dropped his child off at kindergarten earlier that morning on the way to the station. Gus' animated, glowing face appeared in his mind's eye as he recalled how excited his son had been at the thought of them attending the Pirates' game this weekend; he had chirped about it nonstop from the time they had left his loft until they had reached his school fifteen minutes later. He couldn't help smiling wistfully, even under such dire circumstances, as he thought of his son. He couldn't imagine his world without Gus in it, and knew how shattered his heart would be if anything ever happened to him; how all these other parents would be able to go on with their life without their own children was incomprehensible to him.

 

Arms crossed over his chest and leaning against the wall, Brian brought his attention back to the present as he silently eyed his somewhat stocky boss from his place on the opposite side of the room as Horvath continued almost philosophically, "You would think if we kept going over all the clues we do have that there would be something that we missed." They had been in this room for the past hour now, doing just that, reviewing all the crime scene photos, written forensic reports, autopsy notes and what little physical evidence they had, mainly the surreal paper heart calling cards the killer had almost childishly constructed for each child. The detective felt bile rise in his throat as he eyed the seven hearts, each lined up next to each other at the end of the table and signifying a young life crushed out as if it were some insignificant bug. It was as if each one was crying out to them from that table, trying desperately to tell them who was doing this to them.

 

He believed instinctively that the unique calling cards would somehow be the key eventually to the person's identity, because the killer had gone to great pains to create a unique one for each victim; some were meticulously designed, with entire scenes drawn down in minute detail, while others were a shape or symbol drawn over and over again overtop a solid-color background – some were numbers while some were letters. There seemed to be no pattern or logic to the design or progression of complexity, though; the first victims' hearts weren't necessarily more primitive than the last ones, or vice versa. There seemed to be no overall rhyme or reason to any of them, really, except they all had some sort of childhood theme – ice cream, baseball, tractors, race cars, etc. Perhaps that was the story itself, however – each one was somehow a chapter in the same book. They just had to figure out what the plot was, and he felt sure they could find the killer. That, however, was a lot easier said than done.

 

Brian pushed away from the cold, brick wall to take a quick drag of his cigarette. "You know it's been almost a week since the last one," he observed quietly as Carl turned around to look at him and nod his head.

 

"I know," the sergeant replied, the dread coiling in his stomach like a serpent about to strike. "And it means we're running out of time before he kills again."

 


 

Same Time – Justin and Daphne's Apartment

 

Juggling her pre-med books, her keys, and a bag of bagels she had purchased on the way home in between classes for the day, Daphne nudged the door to her and Justin's apartment open with her foot to enter. As she turned her back away from their combination kitchen/living room to close it back, she jumped as Justin quietly called out her name from the couch.

 

She whirled around as she dropped her books in surprise. "Shit, Justin! You scared me to death!" she scolded him; her brows narrowed in concern, however, as she got a better look at her friend's flushed, drawn face. "Oh, no," she murmured, putting two and two together; she knew Justin normally would have been at school this time of day, and she also knew that haunted, anguished look on his face could only mean one thing. "Again?" she asked softly, forgetting her books lying in a heap by the door.

 

Justin cast his glance downward to stare at the floor, putting his head in his hands. Right now, he felt like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. The vision that had jolted him awake earlier this morning had been the worst yet, and there was no way he could have possibly gone back to sleep afterward. After hurrying to retrieve his sketchpad always lying at the ready on his night stand, he had frantically drawn what he could remember before flinging it in horror down on the floor and collapsing into a tearful heap on the bed. He had lain, curled fetal style on his side, for probably close to thirty minutes until his sobs had subsided enough for him to finally drag himself from the bed and into the shower. The water that had poured down upon him had been way too hot for his pale skin, and he knew he had burned his back and chest pink and angry as a result, but he didn't care; he had hoped that somehow the blistering pain of the hot water would crush the searing pain he was feeling in his heart, but of course it hadn't; just like every other time, it hadn't helped at all. Nothing would help….not if this monster kept killing and he was helpless to do anything about it.

 

This time, though, it had been a little different; he could clearly see the victim's face full of life this time – it was so angelic and so beautiful, so innocent. Dark brown hair, wide, expressive soft doe eyes, and an eager, winning smile. So open and so trusting of anyone, including the person trying to lure him to his death. He could even hear the little boy's excited voice as he squealed over the notion of being introduced to some puppies by the killer. He could remember thrashing in his sleep, even crying out to the little boy to warn him, knowing with awful reality what was about to occur, but it was as if the child couldn't hear him; he merely took the man's hand and was abruptly lifted up over some low-lying fence toward parts unknown. As he heard his friend approaching him, he couldn't look at her, he couldn't look at anything; he just wanted to be numb inside – numb to his 'gift' and numb to the pain…

 

Walking over toward Justin on the couch, Daphne placed the bag of bagels and her keys down on the coffee table nearby and sat down next to him, placing one slender hand on his back. Leaning toward her friend, she whispered softly, "You had another vision?"

 

Justin silently nodded, keeping his head down as he avoided looking at her. "Yes," he finally whispered painfully. She could feel under her hand as well as see the large, mournful breath that escaped from him.

"Want to tell me about it?" she asked, lightly rubbing her hand soothingly across the slim back.

 

Justin swallowed hard; his eyes were red and puffy from crying, but his tears from earlier had long ago dried up, leaving him simply with a feeling of emptiness over being helpless to prevent what was happening. He finally lifted his head from his hands to stare over at his friend, licking his lips to try and restore some moisture to them. "Daphne?" he croaked out softly.

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Has…has there been another one?" he was terrified of the answer but he had to know.

 

"Another one?" she repeated, not comprehending the question at first; suddenly, though, she understood. "You mean another murder?"

 

Justin bit his lip and nodded, closing his eyes in preparation for her response. The last time he had been too late; was this going to be the same? He could feel his heart pounding as he waited for her to reply. He let out a breath of relief he didn't even realize he had been holding, however, when she said, "No…..at least I haven't heard of any more."

 

He opened his eyes slowly to stare into her sympathetic brown eyes. "Maybe it's not too late, then," he whispered, a small flame of hope beginning to arise within his soul. "Maybe I can actually save this one," he told her, thinking for a second he sounded ridiculously like a macabre version of some superhero. But if he could somehow help prevent one more little boy from being murdered, to the parents of that child, he would be a superhero to them. Not that he was doing it for that reason, not totally, although that was certainly part of it. He was doing it more to save himself from total despair and to finally make some good come out of this awful 'gift' he had been bestowed with.

 

"Justin, what did you see?" Daphne asked him curiously as he stared straight ahead, trying furiously to think of the best way to proceed. He knew if another child had been killed, it might not necessarily be on the news yet; no one might even know the child was missing, or the police might be keeping that knowledge away from the public for some reason. Should he go back to the police anyway and try to get them to listen to reason this time? Or should he make good on his threat to Detective Kinney and take his horrible premonitions to the press in hopes that someone could figure out who this psychopath was and hopefully prevent any more children from being killed? Was he too late already? All those questions swirled around in his mind as for what must be the hundredth time he wished he had never had this 'special talent' in the first place…

 

"Justin?" Daphne's voice directed him back to the present as he blinked and brought her concerned face into focus again; trying to remember what she had asked him.

 

"I…I had another dream last night," he struggled to tell her, really not wanting to verbalize what he had seen but knowing he had to. "Well, early this morning actually – just before daybreak. There was…..another child." He stared directly into her eyes as he continued, "I could actually see his face this time, Daphne." He could see it clearly even now…. "He was still alive. And I could hear the killer talking to him…..he was asking him if he wanted to go see some puppies. He told him he could pick one out to take home."

 

Daphne's eyes widened in shock as well as disgust over what this man was doing to these children and how he was getting them to cooperate. "You said you could hear him this time?"

 

Justin nodded. "I…..kind of could before – when he was telling the other little boy to go to sleep, but this time it was so clear. I could make out every word he was saying; it was like I was standing right next to him as he talked to this child." He shuddered at the thought of being anywhere near someone so heinous. "I…..I woke up just as he reached his hand to him to follow him…." His face distorted into a look of anguish as he clasped a hand over his mouth for a second and looked away briefly as if he were trying to recall any more details he might have forgotten. "I…..I don't know if it's happened yet, Daphne. But I know he's going to wind up going with him." He sucked in a breath and exhaled it shakily. "And I know what's going to happen after that."

 

Daphne's eyes teared up over the sound of pain in Justin's voice and the look on his face. She knew this was tearing her compassionate, sweet friend to pieces over his inability to stop what was happening to these children. There had to be a way to make this stop, but for the life of her, she had no idea how. "What are you going to do?" she asked him softly, continuing to rub his back lightly in support.

 

She could feel him trembling slightly beneath her as he looked into her eyes and said, "I have to do something. I just don't know what." He recalled Kinney's not-so-veiled threat to have him arrested for interfering with the police's case if he went to the media with what he knew. He also knew how dubious Kinney was about his ability to see what others were doing and his disbelief that he had nothing to do with the murders. The last thing he wanted to do was keep going back down to the police station to be confronted with a wall of suspicion and doubt. And he didn't want to wind up in jail, either, with who knows what kind of criminal…But despite his adamant promise to himself and to the detective that he wasn't going to get involved any more, the one thing he DID know was that he couldn't just sit here and do nothing…..He realized with clarity that he never had had that option in the first place, not if he was a human being unlike this monster who was preying on all these young children. He had only been deluding himself that he could remain detached from it.

 

Daphne glanced down at the floor, noticing for the first time Justin's closed sketchpad. Justin followed her gaze nervously as she asked, "You drew another sketch of this one, too?" She already knew the answer, though; that would have been exactly what Justin would have done, if he thought it would help to catch the killer.

 

He let out another choked breath as he nodded.

 

"Can I see?" she asked softly.

 

He averted his eyes toward the front window and finally granted silent permission as he nodded again. She removed her hand from his back to slowly reach down and pick up the medium-sized sketchpad. Sitting up straight on the couch, she noticed Justin keeping his eyes away from her as she slowly opened it up and began to flip the spiral bound pages over. She couldn't help the gasp that escaped her lips as she came to the drawing toward the middle of the book that could only be the one he was referring to: it showed a beautiful, dark-haired boy with large, expressive eyes and what only could be called a glowing face of eagerness staring up into the unknown face of someone whose back was to the viewer. All she could see was the large, pudgy hand of the unknown stranger's arm extending downward toward the victim. It was like watching a horrible train wreck about to happen, except that this was much more horrifying because you knew what was about to occur…at least Justin knew, she thought, as she watched him cover his face in his hands again, his shoulders stooped as he placed his elbows on his knees in internal turmoil.

 

She was about to ask her friend what she could do to help him when she took a closer look at the picture; there was more in the background than just this boy and the unknown stranger. "Justin…this looks like a playground of some kind." She could see a metal swing set with several, sling-type rubber swings typically seen at school playgrounds in the recess areas, along with a climbing structure of some sort and a pair of see-saws all enveloped by small white gravel. Part of a brick building was situated at the lower right-hand corner of the drawing but there wasn't anything particularly distinguishable about it.

 

He raised his head to stare over at her, refusing to look at the actual sketch. He didn't have to look at it to know what he had drawn anyway; it would be ingrained in his mind for the rest of his life. He nodded. "Yeah…that's the impression I got, too." He sighed as he brushed his hands through his hair and swallowed the lump in his throat. "I think he was definitely at a school somewhere." He could have sworn he could hear the sounds of children playing nearby during his dream as well, but it was the voice of the killer that continued to echo the strongest in his mind; it was a deep baritone with some sort of accent he couldn't quite figure out.

 

Daphne stared at the all-too-realistic sketch before she gently placed it back down on the coffee table and reached over to pick up the remote to their TV to turn it on.

 

Justin reached over in an attempt to grab the remote away from her, but he wasn't fast enough. "Daphne, don't….." he pleaded. He couldn't bear the thought of hearing about yet another innocent child's life being snuffed out, and if he saw it was the angelic face of the one he had just drawn….

 

"Justin, we have to know," she told him sympathetically, knowing how upsetting this was to him. "If somehow this murder hasn't happened already, you can still try and stop it. I know that's what you would want to do – that's why you're putting yourself through all this emotional pain of drawing what you've seen."

 

Justin bit his lip and remained silent, because he knew Daphne was right; they had to know one way or the other.

 

As the television came to life with some talk show, she quickly flipped it over to one of the local news stations, scanning the scrolling information across the screen at the bottom. She didn't see any indication that there had been news of another child being murdered; if there had been, it would have undoubtedly been plastered all over the screen.

 

"Well, I certainly don't see any sign that anyone's aware of anything," she said, turning to stare into the eyes of her friend. She took a deep breath, knowing Justin wasn't going to like what she had to say, but she knew it was unavoidable. "Justin – you're going to have to go to the police again." She knew her tender-hearted friend; if he didn't try to warn them, and if he could have done something to help prevent yet another child from being murdered, he would never forgive himself.

 

"Daphne, I tried the last time, remember?" he reminded her curtly, his voice cracking with emotion as he remembered what had happened. "They didn't believe me. They even think I might be involved with them now! What's going to happen if I go back there again? I'm not sure I can do that."

 

She pondered that problem for several seconds before a sudden inspiration came to her and her eyes lit up. "Then go to the news media; they would jump at the chance to hear your story!"

 

Justin snorted, his eyes flashing in irritation. "Don't you think I've already thought of that?" He sighed apologetically over his outburst toward her as he informed her, "I ran into our friendly neighborhood Columbo, Detective Kinney, at the grocery the other day and I threatened to do just that, because he still can't believe I didn't have anything to do with the murders. I thought maybe at least THEY might believe me or at the very least help get something done. You know what he told me? He made a little 'threat' of his own – he told me if I did, he would have me arrested for obstructing their case and throw my ass in jail where all the 'bull queers," as he put it, could have their version of fun with me!"

 

Daphne huffed in anger, her eyes wide with distaste. "That asshole! I can't believe his arrogance! Could he really do that?" She couldn't believe that the ones who were supposed to preserve the law and protect its own citizens from harm were so indifferent to her friend's attempts to help save lives.

 

"I don't know," Justin replied honestly, shrugging. "But he sure made it sound convincing." He grimaced. "I like cock up my ass as well as the next gay male, but not like that." He shivered just at the thought of it. "I can't take that chance, Daphne," he told her softly. "I don't think he's the kind to bluff too often."

 

She nodded. "Well, that only leaves you once choice, then, Justin," she said firmly, "because I know you can't just sit by and watch it happen again."

 

Justin exhaled a shaky breath and finally nodded. "I know…..I was just hoping you would reach a different conclusion." His gaze came to rest on his sketchpad; thoughts of his last visit to the police department floated through his mind. He was dreading going back down there, but his friend knew him much too well. She was absolutely right; he had spent the last hour agonizing over what to do, and he couldn't come up with any other answer. He couldn't wait any longer, either; every minute could literally mean the difference between life and death for this little boy if he was still alive. He stood up straighter in his place on the couch and squared his shoulders before reaching over to retrieve his sketchpad. She stared into his eyes as he stood up and looked down at her.

 

She smiled at him wistfully, knowing how much he dreaded what he had to do and wishing she could somehow remove this terrible burden from his shoulders. She knew how much it tormented him, but in an odd way, maybe it would have just been dismissed as simply an awful nightmare and not been taken seriously if it had happened to anyone else. Perhaps there was a reason why Justin had been born with both this incredible artistic talent as well as this heartrending 'gift;' only someone with his ability to express what he was seeing in his mind on paper and caring enough to pursue it could be capable of possibly helping to stop this killer in his tracks.

 

As she watched him slide the sketchpad into his canvas portfolio and sling it over his slender shoulder, her heart went out to him over what he had to do. "I can go with you," she offered as he smiled back at her gratefully. Daphne was such a good friend to him, and had never questioned his somewhat quirky ability to see into the future, despite how outlandish it might seem; for that he would be eternally thankful.

 

"Thanks, Daphne," he said gratefully. "I think I could use a friend."

 

She smiled at him and nodded as she stood up to join him. "Well, let's go, then; we can take my car. I think I might have a few things to say to this Detective Kinney myself. When I get done with him, those 'bull queers' will seem tame compared to me," she vowed.

 

For the first time that morning, Justin smiled a genuine smile over her feistiness. "I don't doubt it, Daph," he told her sincerely. He reached for her hand and squeezed it before letting it go and nodding. "I'm ready – at least as ready as I can be."

 


 

One Hour Later – Early Recess – Day Spring Elementary School

 

"Children!" Sheila Musgrove called out authoritatively, clapping her hands to get her charges' attention. "No running! WALK to the playground!" The petite, almost tiny woman sighed as she turned to roll her eyes good-naturedly at the student teacher standing next to her. "Rule No. 1: No matter how many times you tell them not to run, they always forget as soon as their feet hit the pavement," she joked as the young woman next to her smiled and nodded.

 

A recent rush of the flu epidemic that the local Health District had been warning would occur about three months ago had finally come true recently, leaving the school severely short-staffed at the moment; normally during recess, with over 100 primary-age children bustling around the playground, there would be at least seven teachers to supervise them. Today, however, even with the student teacher's help, there were only five. The children had been forced until today to hold recess in their classrooms due to the rainy weather; at last, though, they had been gifted with a dry, sunny day to both the teachers' as well as the students' relief, and the children seemed to be even more boisterous than normal as a result; their squeals of delight as they swung on the swings, played ball or chased after each other as they indulged in a round of tag quickly drowned out normal conversation among the teacher and her student helper.

 

Catching a student hanging upside down in a precarious position on the metal climbing bars, Sheila called out to her student teacher to indicate she was going over to take care of it, leaving the young, blonde-haired woman alone to watch the northern quad of the playground.

 

Before Sheila could get to the child who was hanging only by his feet to the top bar of the structure, her teacher's intuition of dread came true as the wavy-haired, brown-headed boy lost his grip and fell down onto the loose gravel below and promptly began to start wailing, partly out of fear and partly out of pain. As she rushed over, the other four full-time teachers heard the child crying and ran over to help.

 

No one seemed to notice a stocky man standing near the fence on the other side of the playground's grassy area near the parking lot, studying a slim, brown-headed, curious little boy who was inching closer to him to find out what was inside the cardboard box he was holding.

 


 

Same Time – Police Station

 

It was an eerie feeling , walking back into this rather foreboding, older brick building for the same purpose as before; Justin felt a distinctive feeling of déjà vu as he and Daphne entered the lobby and he turned toward the right to walk over to the same man who had been sitting there the first time he had visited. At least this time, he knew the layout of the place. That still didn't help prevent his forehead from breaking out into a cold sweat and his heart from starting to beat faster as he approached the front desk.

 

"Where do we need to go?" Daphne whispered to him, at once a little intimidated by all the comings and goings on inside the precinct but also oddly fascinated by it; it seemed to be a hive of activity, made up of all sorts of staid-looking, uniformed police officers, prostitutes, criminals, and what could only be termed oddballs.

 

Justin gripped her arm lightly and nodded his head toward the man sitting at a desk elevated slightly from the lobby's floor. "Over there," he told her, leading her over to the muscular, middle-aged man. Even though he had seen this same man before, it didn't make him seem any less imposing as he led Daphne over to the desk and waited for him to look up to acknowledge them.

 

Finally after a few tense seconds, Satterwhite drew his gaze away from the paperwork he was looking at and peered down at Justin, his brows narrowing as he realized it was the same blond kid from the day before. He smirked as he noticed he had brought a 'bodyguard' with him. "Back again?" he asked. "Now what?"

 

Justin refused to be goaded by the man's attitude. "I need to speak with Sergeant Horvath again," he told him, surprised his voice was as calm-sounding and assertive as it sounded; he certainly didn't feel that confident. He had decided on the way over to begin with the sergeant; he already knew how Kinney felt about his believability. At least the sergeant seemed willing to entertain the notion that he really could foretell future events in his mind; Kinney was totally closed to the possibility.

 

Satterwhite sighed in annoyance; they got so many kooks coming into the police station recently in light of the child murders, he couldn't count them on both hands and feet, not unless he somehow grew a couple more of each; there was nothing to indicate this kid wasn't just like all the others. After all, what could he possibly know about the case? "Son, I'm not going to waste my Sergeant's time again on nonsense."

 

Daphne glared at him in shock over his attitude. "Excuse me," she said. "My friend just asked to speak to your sergeant; I don't think it's your job to decide who he sees or doesn't see, is it?"

 

Satterwhite snorted. "You got quite a mouth on you to be so small, Missy," he retorted. He finally shrugged. "Have it your way, then; but don't be surprised when he throws you both out on your asses over wasting his valuable time." He glared at both of them before picking up the phone and punching in a two-digit, inter-office number.

 

Carl placed his coffee cup down on the desk at the sound of his phone buzzing; he had brought all the child murders paperwork back from the conference room, where it was sitting in two large, brown folders. He had decided to once more begin going through them, one paper at a time, still hoping that there was something, anything, that he and Brian had missed. His twenty-five years of experience as a cop and his gut instinct, though, told him that they wouldn't find anything additional. He reached over to pick up the phone. "Horvath."

 

Satterwhite smiled falsely at the two young people staring up at him as he said, "Sorry to bother you, Sarge, but your little wannabe detective is back for another visit. And this time he's brought himself a bodyguard." He was going to enjoy it when Horvath told them both to get lost, and he would be glad to personally escort them out himself.

 

Horvath sighed wearily, not in the mood for games. "Just get to the point, Satterwhite," he told the other man. "What are you talking about?"

 

Satterwhite explained, "It's that blond kid from the other day that wanted to see you about the child murders," he told him.

 

Carl's eyes widened at that disclosure; Taylor was back? He wondered what Satterwhite was talking about now. As he gazed down at the first folder he was starting to go through, however, he realized he might as well talk to the young artist again; he had a feeling he wasn't going to find out anything useful in the mound of paperwork he was currently studying for the umpteenth time, and he just might learn something new from this young man, either about the case or one of the possible participants themselves. He only wished that Kinney was here as well to sit in; he had left about thirty minutes ago, though, to investigate a possible lead on a bank robbery suspect and hadn't returned yet.

 

To the arrogant man's astonishment, Horvath sternly instructed him, "Send them back to my office."

 

Justin and Daphne watched as the cocky policeman reluctantly said into the phone, "Yes, Sir," in a somewhat different tone of voice before he hung up the receiver and looked over at them in irritation. He didn't say anything for a few seconds until finally he lifted his head and barked out gruffly to a nearby officer, "Rogers! Take these two down to Horvath's office!"

 

A skinny, tall police officer who appeared to be in his early thirties stood up quickly from his desk nearby and walked around to approach Justin and Daphne. "Come with me," he said coolly as he held his hand out for them to lead.

 

Daphne couldn't help giving Satterwhite one more icy stare of triumph before she grasped Justin's sleeve and together they began to walk down the hallway heading to Horvath's office. As they passed an office on the left, Justin peered curiously inside the open door to notice a nameplate with Kinney's name on it; the office apparently belonged to the arrogant, handsome detective but he was not there at the moment. Just before he was about to direct his gaze back toward the hallway, he eyes fell upon an object and he froze as if a bullet had struck him. "Oh, my God!" he cried out in horrified disbelief; he had to grab onto the door molding to support himself as he felt his knees threatening to give out underneath him.

 

"Justin!" Daphne cried out in alarm, noticing how white Justin's face had suddenly become and how he was grasping onto the wooden molding for dear life. "What is it?" She reached to put her arm around his waist to help support him, noticing he was staring into the empty office at something. Justin sagged under her weight as he threatened to buckle where he stood, almost limp as a rag doll as he fought to breath; his chest was constricting as if his windpipe had been blocked off.

 

The officer escorting them rushed over to prop Justin up by his arm, providing the additional strength Daphne was lacking to help keep him up. "What's going on?" he asked in concern, looking to her for an answer. Was this kid having some sort of medical emergency? "Help me to the chair," he told Daphne, as he led them into the office and managed to slide Justin into the nearest one, facing Brian's desk.

 

"I'll go get the Sergeant," Rogers told her, flummoxed as to what was going on and wondering what to do; he rushed out of the office at a sprint toward their original destination to summon Horvath, leaving the two friends alone.

 

Daphne knelt down beside her friend, gently removing the portfolio from around Justin's shoulder and letting it slide to the floor where it landed propped up against the wooden chair's legs. "Justin, are you sick?" She whispered, bringing her slim hand up against his forehead to check for a fever; he didn't seem hot, but she noticed immediately that he was sweating profusely and his breathing was ragged. He seemed to be in shock, his eyes glassy-eyed and unblinking as he looked straight ahead. "Do you need some water?" she asked helplessly, at a loss as to what was happening; but Justin remained strangely silent.

 

She gently shook his shoulder. "Justin!" Daphne said more urgently; he was really beginning to frighten her now. "Talk to me," she commanded firmly. "What's going on?" His hands were tightly gripping the arms of the chair, his normally pale skin even whiter than normal as he curled his fingers around the rounded metal. "Justin!" she repeated as she heard hurrying footsteps jogging down the hallway. She finally reached up to grasp her friend's chin and force him to look at her. "What is wrong?" she demanded.

 

Justin blinked at last, his eyes glistening with newly-shed tears as he tried to gulp in air to start breathing normally. "Daphne," he gasped out to her. "It's him." He closed his eyes for a moment, hoping when he opened them that the image he saw would somehow miraculously disappear, but when he looked back over behind the desk, it still remained.

 

Daphne's heart was beating fast over worry for Justin; he wasn't making any sense at all. Was he having some other vision while awake? She knew he sometimes experienced those as well. "Justin, who are you talking about? Are you seeing one of the other boys?"

 

Justin pursed his lips together to try and keep any more tears from escaping, but he couldn't prevent them; they weren't just coming from his eyes – they were originating in his heart, which was breaking into shards of tiny pieces. "No," he managed to whisper, as he tried to raise his hand but found it heavy as lead. He swallowed to rid himself of the cottony feeling in his mouth as heard someone coming into the office, hoping desperately that it wasn't Brian, because he didn't know how he was going to tell him.

 

"God," he choked out as Horvath and Rogers rushed into the room.

 

Carl could tell something was going on by the look of concern in this unknown woman's face and the look of what he could only describe as sheer terror on Justin's face. Knowing instinctively that harshness was the wrong approach here, he squatted down next to Daphne's side and said forcefully in a quiet voice, "Son, tell me what's going on."

 

At the sound of the sergeant's voice – the man he had been coming to see in the first place – Justin finally found the courage somehow to tell everyone the horrifying news. He raised his arm and pointed over to a photo that held a place of honor on the low-lying wooden filing cabinets behind Brian's desk and whispered in terror, "That's him – the next victim."

As Daphne followed his gaze over to a young boy's photo and gasped in recognition finally of what Justin had been trying to tell her, no one heard Brian quietly come up behind them.

Chapter Text

"What the fuck's going on here?" Brian growled suspiciously as he noticed a group of people crowded into his office. He immediately recognized Horvath and Rogers, who were huddled around someone seated with his back to him in one of his rickety, wooden office chairs that had long ago outlived their usefulness; next to the man in the chair was a slender brunette woman who was squatted next to him and was holding onto his hand while she quietly murmured some sort of soothing words next to his ear.

 

He frowned as the man in the chair covered his face with his hands in response to his question; the young woman held onto his knee and gave it a reassuring squeeze as she looked up at Brian in annoyance.

 

"Brian," Carl said to him as he stood up abruptly, looking strangely uncomfortable for some reason. He glanced over at his lieutenant. "That will be all, Rogers," he said, staring pointedly at his subordinate in dismissal. "And nothing goes beyond this office, do you understand me, or I'll have your badge, got it? And tell Satterwhite we are NOT to be disturbed for any reason."

 

The skinny man swallowed; he still didn't really have any idea what was going on, but from the stern look on his boss' face, it appeared to be quite serious. Even if he did want to spread some type of gossip, he didn't really know enough to be able to do so anyway; the whole episode was surreal. One thing he did understand, though, was that his job was on the line.

 

"Uh, yeah, Sarge, I understand," he said haltingly as he nodded. He gave Brian one quick cursory glance as well before he quickly strode out of the room, actually relieved to be away from whatever melodrama was playing out. He didn't really know Kinney very well – the cocky detective had a habit of sticking to himself most of the time and always liked to skirt around the rules everyone else had to adhere to – but he knew enough to know the man was somewhat peculiar and pig-headed; he was glad to not get involved, then, with whatever was going on.

 

After Rogers had left, Horvath looked over at his detective with concern. "Come on in and shut the door," he told him quietly. Carl had no way of knowing whether this frightened, apprehensive young man sitting near him was right about their being another victim – and it being Brian's son – but just in case he had to prepare him….The only question was, how do you prepare someone for something like this?

 

Brian looked from the worried face of his sergeant over to the brown-haired young woman staring up at him curiously and frowned; just what in the hell was going on? He had never seen the woman before, but she had this odd mixture of both contempt and sympathy on her face as she stared back at him. As he walked farther into his office, however, and shut the door behind him, he finally got a look at who the other man was and his eyes narrowed in wariness. "Taylor," he said suspiciously as he placed one hand on the side of his desk and turned to face him; at the sound of his voice, Justin slowly removed his hands and peered up nervously at Brian; there were noticeable streaks of tears and a look of anguish on his face.

 

"Brian," he whispered painfully, his voice choked with emotion. "Oh, my God, I'm so sorry, so sorry….." he kept repeating the words over and over again like some horrible mantra as he bit his lip to try and keep any more tears from falling. He had thought before that these constant dreams of children being kidnapped and killed couldn't get any worse, but he had been wrong. Before, as horrendous as it was, it hadn't been personal, he hadn't known anything about the children; now, though, he knew much more than he ever wanted to.

 

Brian shook his head in aggravation; he was getting tired of Justin's over-the-top attempts at an Oscar performance. "Sorry about what?" he demanded as he looked over at Horvath for help. "This bullshit is really getting old, Sarge," he growled. Why was Horvath continuing to let this man have an audience with them? They either needed to charge the guy with something or quit giving him so much attention, which obviously he was relishing in.

 

Daphne's eye flashed with irritation, despite her realization that this detective that had been hounding Justin relentlessly lately was about to find out something dreadful. But Horvath held his hand up in warning just before Daphne tried to defend her friend; he knew he needed to be the one to tell him….. "Brian, have you heard from your son lately?" he inquired urgently.

 

Brian sat down on the edge of his desk and eyed his boss in puzzlement, his long legs crossed together at the ankles and his hands folded across his chest. "Well, he's a little young yet for long, drawn-out philosophical conversations with me, but yes, he spent the night with me last night and I dropped him off at school earlier this morning before I came into work. What the fuck does that have to do wi….." The sentence died on his lips as he looked down at Justin's sorrowful face and remembered his words of regret; a sudden, terrifying thought came unbidden to his mind as he noticed the blond averting his eyes from him now…... No….

 

"You're not suggesting….you're not trying to say…..," he struggled to get the words out as horror began to permeate every nerve in his body while he tried furiously to tamp the gnawing sense of worry down in the pit of his stomach. He refused to believe what his gut was telling him as all eyes focused on him. Gus is fine – he's fine; there's one way to nip this in the bud now….

 

He quickly reached inside his jacket pocket and flipped his cell phone open just as he heard his landline phone buzzing. Torn between needing to check on his son and wanting to know who was disturbing their meeting against his boss' strict instructions, he finally walked around his desk and snatched up the other phone, realizing instinctively that it had to be important. "Yeah!" he growled impatiently.

 

"I'm sorry to bother you, Detective," he heard Satterwhite saying. "But this woman on the other end said it was an emergency and she sounds really upset."

 

Brian's heart dropped in his throat as he glanced down at Justin, who had his head lowered in his hands as the young woman placed her slender hand on Justin's back and began to gently caress it.

 

He took a deep breath before speaking. "Kinney."

 

He could barely recognize the voice of his long-time friend on the other end as she screamed out his name and a torrent of words came rushing out.

 

"Lindsey, Lindsey….slow down, I can't understand a word you're saying! What's going on?"

 

"Brian!" she said breathlessly, her voice breaking. "It's…..it's Gus! He's missing! God, you've got to help find him, Brian! Oh, my God! I can't believe this is happening!"

 

Brian's face went pale. "No…." he whispered. He took another breath before managing to ask, "You're at the school?"

 

"No, but I'm on my way there! They just called to tell me he was at recess a few minutes ago and just disappeared! Oh, my God, Brian! Where is he? We've got to find him! If something's happened to him…."

 

Brian briefly closed his eyes as all sort of frightening thoughts entered his mind. "Calm down, Linds, calm down – we'll find him. I'm on my way – I'll meet you there. Try not to worry." As he quickly hung up the phone, however, he couldn't take his own advice; he was absolutely terrified. His face darkened in fury and his heart hammered in his chest as he looked over at Justin. "You! You've got something to do with this, don't you?" He attempted to walk over toward Justin, not sure exactly what he wanted to do but feeling like he wanted to choke the living daylights out of him to get some truthful answers. "If something has happened to my son….."

 

Carl, who had had no problem overhearing Lindsey's part of the conversation, quickly grabbed his arm and pinned him against his chest just in time as Brian thrashed out violently; Justin visibly flinched as Daphne protectively placed her arms around her friend to shield him, even though she knew she would be no match for the man's strength. "Brian! Stop it!" Horvath reprimanded him. "We don't have time for this, damn it! Every minute here is critical for your son! I'll explain what's going on in the car – let's go!"

 

"But he knows where he is!" Brian snarled as Justin's eyes filled with tears again and he mutely shook his head no. "He's got to know! Why else is he here?"

 

"We don't know that!" Horvath hissed. "We don't have to time for this! I'll explain in the car!" he repeated. "Come on!"

 

Brian's chest was heaving with deep anger as he continued to struggle for several seconds until his cop sense kicked in and he realized Carl was right; he had to find his son – that was what was most important for now. Gus…Oh, God, not Gus….

 

He roughly wrenched himself away from his boss as he stared down at Justin. "Okay, okay," he said, straightening his jacket as he yanked at the hem. "Let's go."

 

Justin took a deep breath as he stood up, not sure what to do; Brian quickly wagged a finger in front of his face. "No fucking way!" he snarled. "You're not going anywhere! You're under arrest!"

 

Daphne couldn't take it any longer as Justin shrunk back in alarm from Brian's tirade. She quickly stood up to block his exit. "You asshole – he's trying to help you!" she yelled, her eyes flashing in anger as she stared up defiantly into the darkened eyes. "It's possible there's still time! Don't you understand? Justin had nothing to do with this!"

 

"Get out of my fucking way!" Brian bellowed as he physically shoved her to the side; Justin barely managed to catch her fall with his arm as he quickly grabbed her wrist.

 

"Enough!" Carl yelled, fed up with the confrontations. "They're coming with us, Kinney, no arguments! End of discussion! We don't have time for this, Brian! Go!" he commanded, physically pushing the stubborn, irate detective out of his office. He would have to try and explain to Brian what was going on while they were on their way to his son's school, even though he was almost at a loss as much as Brian was; he still didn't quite understand Taylor's peculiar role in all this, but he knew this young artist was critical to the case. Just before he followed the others out of Kinney's office, keeping a watchful eye on Justin and his friend, he quickly snatched up the blond's portfolio to take with them, somehow knowing it would be needed, and flipped his cell phone open to summon several other police cars to accompany them to Brian's son's school as backup.

 

Brian didn't even look back to acknowledge Justin and the unidentified, feisty brunette hanging onto his arm behind him; he guessed it must be Taylor's roommate; of course she would be defending her friend. As he rushed down the hall toward the precinct garage, he tried desperately not to jump to conclusions; he refused to believe that his son wouldn't be found safe and sound, that it would all be some sort of misunderstanding…deep down, though, his police sense told him better but he refused to acknowledge it.

 

Carl reached over to grab Justin's wrist as the three of them struggled to keep up with the long-legged detective. "This way," he instructed them as Brian rushed around the corner at a dead run, not caring if the others kept up or not; the only focus he had at the moment was on his son's well-being. They somehow managed to keep an eye on Brian as he made a beeline for a nondescript, black sedan assigned to him in the parking garage. Yanking the door open and quickly getting in, the three others barely had enough time to climb inside before Brian slapped the portable, flashing police light on top of the car, started the engine and jammed the vehicle into drive, the tires screeching as he sped out of the garage toward the main road and on toward his son's school located approximately five miles away. His hands tightly gripped the steering wheel, his knuckles white with tension as he concentrated on reaching the elementary school in record time; he lay on the horn several times as he approached each intersection, not even slowing down as the other passengers prayed the oncoming traffic was paying enough attention to avoid colliding with them.

 

Brian glanced in the rear-view mirror as he drove, noticing the blond in the back seat biting his lip nervously as he looked out the window, seemingly lost in thought, his friend clutching onto his forearm in compatriot silence. He breathed out an anxious huff of breath, unable to keep his son's welfare out of his mind, as he turned to his superior. "Okay, Carl…..Now tell me what the fuck is going on here!" he spat out, his voice quiet but hard as steel. "What does he have to do with this?"

 

Carl sighed. "He showed up about a half hour ago and told Satterwhite he needed to see me. Rogers was taking him back to my office when he became upset, apparently after he glanced inside your office and saw a picture of your son. I got to your office just in time to hear him say that your son was the next victim when YOU showed up. That's about all I know at the moment; I didn't think we had time for him to go into details."

 

To everyone's surprise, he heard Justin unexpectedly speak up. "I'm right here, you know; you're talking like I'm not even here."

 

Brian stared at the defiant blue eyes in his rear-view window. "The only thing I'm interested in hearing you say is what you've done to my son. I swear to God, Taylor, if you or your fucking accomplice have touched one hair on his head, I'll rip you from limb to limb!"

 

"Leave him alone!" Daphne snapped as Justin looked like he had been struck. "He's only trying to help you! Why can't you see that?"

 

"By kidnapping my son? Is this your way of taking out revenge for my treatment of you the other day?"

 

"No! I'm not involved with any of this!" Justin shot back in a choked voice of reprehension at even the thought of being involved with such a heinous crime. "God! What will it take to convince you of that?"

 

"Enough, enough!" Carl shouted. "No one's going to go anywhere until we get to the bottom of this whole thing, and we're going to find your son, Brian," he told his detective firmly; he knew how much Brian loved his son, and he realized he was lashing out partly due to helplessness and fear. He only wished he could be as confident internally that this situation would turn out positively; the reality was, though, if Brian's son's disappearance was tied to the Paper Hearts Killer and he followed his standard M.O., they had a window of approximately 24 hours to find the boy before it would be too late. He knew Brian was well aware of that, too, having been the chief detective investigating the murders. That was one of the few similarities or patterns with this killer; for some as of yet discernible reason, the killer apparently kept his victim alive for approximately one day before he killed and dumped them. Thank God as of yet, none of them had show any signs of being sexually abused, but he knew that was little comfort to Brian at the moment.

 

Carl reached down on the floor to pick up Taylor's portfolio; he halfway turned around in his seat to see Justin eyeing him cautiously. "I'm assuming you wanted to show me something in here." Justin licked his lips nervously and nodded; he had been anxious enough before at the thought of showing his latest sketch to the sergeant and his brash, cynical detective. Now that he knew the boy he had envisioned was actually Brian's son, however, he was terrified of the other man's reaction to seeing it.

 

"Care if I look at it, Son?" Carl asked him. He knew he would have authority to look at it anyway, seeing as if it was part of an ongoing murder investigation, but something made him ask anyway. He still couldn't quite figure out how this young artist could have a gift of premonition regarding the murders, but the more he was exposed to this young man, and the more he saw his reactions to what was happening, the more he was becoming convinced that he really was innocent of any wrongdoing. Either that or he was the most gifted actor in the world.

 

He noticed Brian looking at him out of the corner of his eye as he undid the snap and slowly slid out the portfolio, flipping through various pages of still lifes and candid shots; Taylor was extremely talented and artistically gifted – even with his untrained eye, there was no question of that. He kept leafing through the pages until he came to the sketch that Taylor undoubtedly was bringing in to show them before all hell had broken loose. "My God," he whispered, as he studied the photo of a little dark-haired boy who was the spitting image of Brian's son, Gus. There could be no doubt who this boy was, nor could there be any question that if Justin's sketch was accurate, the boy hadn't just wandered off from school; he was in great danger.

 

Brian couldn't resist peering over at the sketch that had caught his sergeant's attention; as he did so, his eyes almost popped out of his head as he instantly recognized the beautiful, curious face of his son; he had that typical look he always got when he was enthralled by whatever he was seeing or hearing. His face was aglow and his eyes were lit up with excitement; his mouth was turned up into a smile of innocent, absolute delight. What made his heart fill with horror, though, was the hulking, vague shadow of someone looming over him from in front, one pudgy hand outstretched toward him in sinister invitation. "Shit!" he growled; not sure whether to be more terrified at the thought of his son being harmed or furious at whoever was responsible for it.

 

"Look out!" Horvath shouted as Brian tore his gaze away from the drawing and looked back to the road just in time to avoid hitting a large, black metal streetlamp at the next street corner. He wrenched the wheel to the right as all his occupants were slung sideways, barely staying upright under the control of their latched seatbelts.

 

Brian's chest heaved from the adrenalin rushing through his veins as he let out a deep breath; at the sight of his son being threatened, his blood had run cold. He had to get to that school, he had to find his son; there was no other option. He glanced once more at the back of the car and his eyes locked onto blue ones staring back at him in anxiety. He couldn't quite decipher the emotions expressed; even with his cop training, he was too upset at the moment to be able to think straight. He knew one thing, though; before this whole sordid tale was over, he would get to the bottom of what – and exactly who – Justin Taylor was: a criminal helping to prey on young children, or an unwilling participant in a macabre game of fortune telling.

 

As they approached the school a few minutes later, it was obvious word had gotten out that a student was missing. There were several county and city patrol cars parked helter-skelter as if the occupants had pulled up and rushed out of their cars, leaving them where they stood. There were a few uniformed policemen standing outside, apparently guarding against anyone leaving until they could be questioned. No students could be seen, however, either out in the adjacent playground or anywhere else on the grounds; the school was obviously in a lockdown situation at the moment.

 

As Brian pulled up hurriedly and stopped, Carl couldn't help thinking how much better if would have been if only the same teachers now milling around helplessly, wondering what to do, had kept a better watch on their precious charge who was now missing; if anything happened to this particular child, he knew Brian would never get over it. He thought for just a moment about his own daughter, now grown and out on her own. If this had happened to her, he would have felt the same way.

 

The car had barely stopped before Brian flung the driver's side open and rushed out at a full run toward the policemen standing near the entrance; he and Carl didn't know enough details yet to even know where to start. Carl opened the door, taking just a moment to lean in to tell his backseat occupants, who were locked in from the inside, "Stay here." He wasn't sure what they were walking into yet; he wanted to keep their two passengers safe, but at the same time, he wanted especially to keep Taylor close by. At this point, he was still undecided what his role was in the killings, and they would no doubt need to question him further after finding out exactly what they dealing with here at the crime scene.

 

Justin sighed heavily as Horvath closed the door, effectively locking them both in the cars like prisoners. Would this be what he would be considered from now on? He bowed his head in weariness, more mental than physical although he had gotten very little sleep since seeing Brian's son in his dream.

 

Brian's son. He couldn't believe the beautiful, doe-eyed boy was Brian's own child. His heart, which had been heavy with sorrow since the moment he had seen the child in his nightmare vision, was even more weighted down with this startling revelation. If Brian's own child wasn't safe from this predator, if they couldn't somehow save him, whose child would be safe? How many more children would be killed before this person was caught? How many more frightening visions would he have until they stopped? Would they ever stop?

 

He sucked in a painful breath as he looked over at his friend. Daphne unbuckled her belt and scooted over toward him to take his arm. "Justin…..I, I don't know what to say. They have to know you had nothing to do with this."

 

Justin shook his head, his eyes glistening. "I think Sergeant Horvath is willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, but not Detective Kinney. I saw the look in his eyes, Daphne; he thinks I had something to do with this. He thinks I know what happened to his son. He hates me for what he thinks I did to his little boy!"

 

"Shh," his friend shushed him quietly as she looked out the window at Horvath and Kinney talking to a couple of other policemen and a blonde-headed, middle-aged woman wearing a maroon-colored, two piece skirt suit. "You don't know that for sure, Justin; but it doesn't matter – he'll find out you had nothing to do with this! I don't know when his son went missing, but if it happened at recess this morning, it had to be after you told me about your dream! Don't you see? There's no way it had happened by the time you drew the sketch and told me about it! He can't blame you for this!"

 

Justin huffed. "He'll find a way; he's blamed me since the moment he saw me. He said he doesn't believe in this hocus-pocus mumbo-jumbo." Inside, though, a slight glimmer of hope began to coalesce as he realized Daphne was right – there could be no way he could be involved with the crime this time. Unless…. "What if he thinks I drew a sketch ahead of time of what 'my accomplice' was planning to do today?"

 

Daphne turned her head to peer into her friend's worried eyes. "Come on, Justin! Kinney may be a stubborn, know-it-all asshole but he doesn't appear to be stupid! How could you possibly draw what was going to happen before it did? You couldn't foresee the exact way this man would come and snatch that boy away; I don't care if you ARE involved! It's just not possible to be that accurate!"

 

Justin continued to stare out the window as he whispered, "I just need for them to find him. I want this to stop. I want the pain to stop….He's got to be okay." He watched as a beige-colored SUV quickly pulled up and two women – a tall wispy blond and a thin brunette – hurriedly emerged from the vehicle and ran over to Brian. He couldn't hear what was being said, but it didn't take his psychic abilities to know that they were extremely upset. The blond rushed into Brian's arms as he hugged her tightly to his chest while the smaller woman animatedly began to talk to Horvath, her face contorted in anger and pain as she gestured with her hands.

 

"I wish I knew what they were saying," Justin murmured as he watched them. He desperately wanted to know what they had found out about Gus, but couldn't hear a thing through the thick pane of the car's safety glass. He, too, could only hazard a guess as to who the two women were – one had to be the child's mother, he would think, but he wasn't sure about the other woman.

 

"I know," Daphne whispered, feeling so sorry for her friend. She was glad she had been able to come with him for moral support; she knew if he had had to come alone, he would have probably fallen apart, despite the strength and resilience he had displayed so far. Justin had had to be strong to prevail through all the horrible visions he had been having lately, but the murders of so many young innocent lives were quickly taking a toll on him. And this time it was more personal because it involved one of the detectives trying to solve them. "We're just going to have to wait, though; we don't have any choice."

 

Justin nodded as he continued to watch the drama playing out several feet away, desperately wishing he could read lips. The worry pouring off Brian and the two women, though, was almost palpable, and for good reason; he didn't have any idea exactly who the killer was, but he did know one thing – the man was pure evil. Please…..let them find him in time, he silently pleaded as he pressed his palm against the cold glass and waited for word.

 

The principal, Marla Hensley, pressed one lacquered hand to her head as if trying to stop the pain from throbbing in her temple; Gus Peterson-Marcus had only been missing for about an hour, but in that time the entire staff had quickly been engaged in either monitoring the remaining children who were on lockdown in the gymnasium, looking through the remaining interior rooms of the school or searching the grounds for any sign of the missing child. None of the teachers had seen Gus leaving with anyone, nor had they even seen any strangers lurking around just beforehand. She had explained that when another child had gotten hurt on the climbing bars, it had drawn the attention of the skeleton teaching staff on the playground and no one had witnessed Gus being drawn away – if that was what had happened.

 

The woman was heartsick at the thought that Gus might have been abducted; her school normally prided itself on maintaining meticulous control of their children at all times, but the pervading influenza bug that had swept through the school recently had finally defeated their strategy. Now, as she looked at the worried looks of the two mothers and the infuriated expression on the child's father's face, she averted her eyes in shame and regret.

 

"Okay, Ms. Hensley, one more time," Horvath said patiently as he wrote down some notes on a small, spiral-bound notebook; inside, however, he was anything but calm. He knew there were swarms of policemen searching the grounds as they spoke, but he also knew the longer it took to find Gus, the worse his chances would be. And Kinney – he could barely control his anger and his restlessness as he lightly juggled on each foot in turn. He knew Brian was dying to do something, anything, to find his son, but until they got a lead on just who had abducted him, his hands were virtually tied. This woman he was questioning, unfortunately, didn't appear to know a fucking thing that would help, either. "You say one of the teachers noticed Gus as he came out into the playground, about an hour ago."

 

She nodded her head. "Yes, that's right; his teacher, Diana Withers, was one of the playground supervisors so she came out with him and the rest of her class at 10:30 for their morning recess."

 

"And when would you say was the last time she or anyone else saw him?"

 

The principal stared over at Horvath in embarrassment. "No one really recalled seeing Gus specifically after he ran out to the playground after the class bell rang."

 

Brian's eyes flashed as he jammed his hands into his pockets; he had a sudden urge to put his hands around her turkey neck and strangle the life out of her at the moment for her incompetence. "No one saw my son after that?" He glanced over at Lindsey and Melanie, who were standing there with their arms around each other, tears in their eyes as they thought about where their son might be and what was happening to him. Was he scared? Was he crying? Was he wondering why no one was coming to get him?

 

"If something happens to my son, Lady, I am going to hold you and everyone in this school responsible! This is the biggest bunch of bullshit I have ever heard! You let a six-year-old child just walk off with a total stranger?" He brushed his hand through his hair helplessly. "How could you fucking do that, Ms. Hensley? Huh? Answer the goddamn question!"

 

The blonde-headed woman covered her face in her hands in anguish. "I know – we're so sorry, Mr. Kinney." She stared over at the haunted faces of the two women to repeat, "I'm so sorry. We're all just heartbroken over this."

 

"Yeah….that's a big comfort right now," Brian spat out as he glanced over at Lindsey and Melanie. "Try telling them that." He scuffed his shoes against the cement sidewalk. "We're wasting our time here, Sarge," he said, his body roiling with repressed energy. He always had been one not to just sit around and wait for something to happen; he had to go out and dig for the answers. And it was even worse now; he couldn't bear to just stand there while his precious son's life was at stake. But where do they even begin? Where do they start? They had no description of the man, no getaway vehicle, not even so much as a fingerprint the killer had left anywhere. How were they going to find this murderer before it was too late?

 

"Can we interview the kids who were out on the playground at the same time as Gus?" he asked Horvath, not even wanting to look the principal in the eye at the moment; he was so disgusted and angry he didn't trust himself to even be civil to her.

 

Carl held out a hand to gently take Brian's sleeve. "Already being done," he told him as he peered over at the two women whose faces were pale with worry; their eyes wet with tears of dread. "Those students have been quarantined separately from the rest of the student body. They will be asked if they saw any strangers near the playground, and whether they saw Gus anywhere at recess or whether he might have wandered off; anything that might help us find out where he's gone."

 

Brian huffed. "Not gone, Carl; taken. There's no fucking way my son just walked away from school – that is not like him. He loved," he choked on the word before he firmly corrected himself as he cleared his throat to try and dislodge the large lump there, "…loves school. He did not leave here voluntarily – he wouldn't do that."

 

Carl nodded. "I'm sure you're right, Brian," he said softly, "But we need to make sure. While the students are being interviewed, I've got some of my men questioning some of the neighbors."

 

He turned to the two women, who were still holding each other for comfort. "Just in case, Ladies, if you would contact the parents of any of Gus' playmates just to make sure he somehow didn't go home with them, that would be helpful. It's a long shot, but we want to cover all our bases. Don't volunteer a lot of information about our theory as to what's happened, but I know we won't be able to keep this low-key for long, nor do I think we want to; I think the more eyes looking for your son at this point, the better." He didn't think he had to mention that time would run out quickly for their little boy if they didn't find him soon; the killer did not keep his victim for very long after kidnapping him before he discarded him….Up until now, Carl had tried to be discreet about who knew what was really going on, but he had come to the conclusion that it was time to up the ante and start getting the public involved more. He still wanted to hold the two main clues to the killer's identity close to his vest for prosecution purposes and to discourage copycat killers – the killer's habit of changing the victim into sleep ware, and his 'calling card' – but it was time to start getting the public's help with this case before another child was killed – Brian's child.

 

He noticed the blonde woman, Lindsey, was clutching a stuffed teddy bear, no doubt a toy that belonged to their son, and his heart lurched at the sight. Noticing his observation, she explained softly, "This is Bradley – it's Gus' favorite animal that he always sleeps with at night." She swallowed hard before she choked out, "I think he might need it when…when…." She couldn't complete the statement as she dissolved into a puddle of tears and Melanie pulled her into her arms for a tight hug as they rocked together silently, both bodies shaking with grief.

 

Carl nodded silently, his heart going out not only to the two women but also to his detective, whose normal devil-may-care, steely resolve had quickly slipped in light of his own son being the killer's target. He advised Brian, "The county's already got two canine units searching for signs of your son in the woods behind the school grounds. They're using a baseball hat that was left inside the classroom for a scent."

 

Brian shut his eyes in pain as he remembered he had promised his son they would go to a baseball game this weekend; he recalled placing the Pirates' cap on his son's head this morning after he had spent the night with him at his loft. The two of them had had such fun together, and he had been looking forward to taking Gus to the ball game to try and catch a foul ball. He was even going to go early so his son could try and get some autographs of his favorite players. Now he didn't know if he would ever see his son again at all

 

The reality of what he might be facing was quickly catching up to him; before now, he had been running mainly on adrenaline and couldn't stop to consider what was at stake. Now, however, as he stood there helplessly, not knowing what to do to find his son, he realized just how grave the situation was and his own face mirrored the same grief and helplessness shown on Melanie and Lindsey's faces. Gus…..Where are you? He whispered silently to his son, hoping somehow, some way, Gus would hear him and help lead them to his whereabouts.

 

"Carl…..we've got to find my son," he choked out, pursing his lips tightly together to keep the tears from falling. "We've got to fucking find him." Before it's too late….

 

"I know, Son," Carl said, placing his hand on the brunet's shoulder and squeezing it. He normally wasn't a very demonstrative man in public – preferring to devote such exhibitions exclusively to private time with his wife – but he felt a need to connect personally with his proud, devoted detective. This man, who had managed to hunt down and arrest numerous felons before, had never had taken on this sort of challenge before. Never had it been so personal and never had there been so much at stake. "And we will," he added, although how, he really didn't know. As he glanced over at the police car, though, he knew somehow that the answer lay in the mind – and sketches – of Justin Taylor.

 


 

Same Time – Ten Miles Away

 

The newest addition to his son's baseball team lay quiet and still on top of the John Deere coverlet; as soon as the child had been close enough to grab, he had merely hoisted his slim body over the low-lying metal fence and whisked him away, the cardboard box containing the taped sounds of puppies squealing quickly discarded in his haste to escape unnoticed. It had been a simple matter of pressing the chloroform-soaked rag to the boy's mouth just like he had so many times before and within seconds the child had fallen limp as a ragdoll in his arms; he had hurried toward the dented, nondescript black truck he used as his escape vehicle and laid him across the front bench seat before quickly starting the truck and rushing away undetected.

 

Now, as the child slept peacefully on top of his son's bed, he could almost imagine it was Tommy lying there, sleeping soundly after an afternoon of Little League. Those had been such fun times, watching his son from the sidelines as he stood at the plate, his dusty, cleated shoe scuffing the dirt underneath as he waited breathlessly for the pitcher's next slider. Invariably, his bat would connect soundly with the ball; his son always was a natural talent behind the plate, and the year before he had died he had been awarded the MVP plaque for his league.

 

He sighed mournfully as he stood up and walked over to the mantelpiece to pick up the shiny, golden and wood plaque verifying his son's success; it stood proudly next to a picture of Tommy wearing his beloved No. 5 baseball uniform as he held the trophy up high over his head, a look of pure delight on his face. Had that been just last year? Sometimes the pain was so raw it felt like yesterday, and then other times when the loneliness was almost too much to bear, it felt like a lifetime ago. He gently placed the plaque back down in its honored spot on the mantle and turned to observe the tall, angelic, dark-haired child lying on his back, his breaths coming out regularly in soft puffs of air. "Yeah, Son, he'll be a perfect shortstop for you," he told his child as he smiled. "It'll be real soon, Tommy. Real soon."

 


 

"Sergeant!" A man Horvath recognized as an Alleghany County Sheriff came rushing up to the group with a cardboard box in his hand. "We found this out in the far corner of the playground!"

 

Brian hurried over to his sergeant's side, his heart in his throat as both men took a look at what he had found; it was a small, black, hand-held tape recorder inside a beat-up, plain brown box. As the two men looked at the sheriff questioningly, the uniformed man reached in with a latex-gloved hand and held the device up to press the Play key. Instantly, squealing, yelping sounds could be heard.

 

"What the fuck?" Carl inquired as he strained to listen to the sound and make out what it was. "What is it?"

 

Brian took a deep breath and let it out. "I'd say it was my son's undoing," he whispered as dread washed over him as he looked over at Lindsey. "He's always asking me if he could have a puppy." There could be no doubt in his mind now that his son had been taken somewhere. Gus…Where are you?

 

"Oh, God," Lindsey breathed out as Mel hugged her tighter; she knew her son would have responded instantly to anything having to do with puppies; he adored them. She and Mel had constantly coached their son on the dangers of cooperating with strangers, but whenever puppies were involved, his common sense and education promptly were thrown out the door. The abductor had apparently hit upon the one thing that Gus would not have been able to resist….

 

Mel said quietly, "Gus wouldn't have just gone off with some stranger – except for that."

 

"Have these been dusted for prints?" Carl asked the county sheriff urgently, who nodded; this was the first time the killer had seemingly slipped up and left any evidence at the scene. "Yeah…first thing we did after finding them; nothing," he reported sadly. "Whoever used this made sure he or she didn't leave any fingerprints."

 

"Of course no," Brian spat out. "Just like always." There was no doubt now in his mind that this was the same man who had kidnapped the other children, and he also knew painfully what the outcome always was. He was determined that this was NOT going to happen to his son, though, even as his heart was beating mercilessly in terror at the thought.

 

"Brian…" He turned to look at Lindsey, her face a reflection of his own worry.

 

"I'm going to find him, Lindsey; count on it," he told her adamantly, knowing what she was asking in that single word; there could be no other option. He set his jaw as he stared over at Mel, whose face was wet with tears. It was rare for this bullheaded woman to ever show any emotion other than anger, but Brian also knew deep down that, despite their numerous differences, this woman loved Gus just as deeply as he and Lindsey did. "I'll find him," he whispered to her as she nodded, too overcome to speak.

 

Back in the unmarked patrol car, Justin wrung his hands in restlessness as he and Daphne silently watched the proceedings unfolding several yards away. They were too far away to make out what one of the other policemen had carried up to Brian and Horvath inside a box; but whatever it was it must have been considered evidence because the man was wearing protective latex gloves as he held a small, square black item out to them. He could clearly see Brian's reaction of dismay, though, as well as the two women, who immediately broke out into new tears. Whatever it was, it obviously wasn't a good sign…..

 

"This is driving me crazy, Daphne!" Justin growled. "I can't stand this waiting! I need to know what's going on!"

 

Daphne squeezed his shoulder in camaraderie. "I know," she said sympathetically. "This has got to be so hard on you," she said as Justin glanced back at her from his place near the window. "I wish they'd tell us what's going on, too." She gazed into her friend's blue eyes, full of worry and dread. "But you already partly know, don't you?"

 

Justin pushed the heel of his palms tightly against his eyes briefly before he let out a heavy sigh and shook his head. "That's just it, Daphne! I knew he was going to wind up being kidnapped – at least some child was – but that's all! I don't know anything more…..although I know they're not going to believe that; especially Brian. You saw the look in his eyes!"

 

"Justin, he's terrified about his son – he's lashing out at you because you're the most convenient target! But he's got to know you had nothing to do with this! You couldn't have – you were with me when he was taken!"

 

Justin rubbed his hands against his face in frustration. "I know, I know….God, Daphne, I just want this whole thing to be over with! I don't want this responsibility anymore! If they don't find Brian's son in time, they might as well go ahead and blame me because I'll wish I was dead anyway!"

 

Daphne's eyes flashed as she squeezed Justin's wrist hard. "Damn you, Justin! Don't you say that! That is nonsense talk, you hear me?"

 

Justin sniffled, his eyes tearing up over her loyalty. "I know," he whispered. "But it hurts, Daphne; it hurts so much, and there's nothing I can do about it."

 

She reached over and wrapped her arms around her friend. "I know….."

 

Their tender moment was interrupted by the sound of car doors opening; they hadn't even noticed Carl and Brian returning to the car. Justin's heart began to pound as he looked at Brian's face when he entered the car. "What…What's going on?" he whispered to him, dreading what the answer would be but needing to know just the same.

 

"What do you think, Kreskin?" Brian asked. "My son's been kidnapped!" His eyes focused on Justin's portfolio lying on the floor. "Oh, but that's right – you already knew that, didn't you?" He shot back, as Justin shrunk from the man's fury; Daphne stared back at the detective in disdain.

 

"Brian," Horvath warned him quietly. "This isn't helping. We'll take both of them back to the station to question him at length."

 

"Count on it," Brian vowed as he stared intensely at Justin, his eyes almost dark as coal. "And you'd better hope my son is still alive when I find him, or you'll be joining your accomplice in hell."

 

"Don't worry," Justin managed to answer, his voice barely audible as Carl started the car to return to the station. "I'm already there right now."

 

Chapter Text

The ride back to the station was silent and tense, everyone's thoughts concentrated on the young boy missing and undoubtedly in great danger. Justin and Daphne had no way of knowing that the killer's M.O. normally meant the victim was only kept for approximately 24 hours before he was killed and the body disposed over a hill like yesterday's garbage, but both Carl and Brian did; and it was all Brian could do to keep his mind on the road as he drove the four of them back to the police station. He was trying hard to stay detached from the present situation like any good cop would do, but this time he just couldn't do it, because he wasn't just a cop, he was a father…..and this was his son.

 

The farther he drove away from the school, the more he felt like he was abandoning Gus, although he and the rest of the searchers had no idea at this point where he actually was; despite questioning all the students there who were in the playground area at the time, and all the teacher monitors, no one seemed to remember where Gus had been at the time he had actually gone missing. It was like he had simply disappeared from view from the moment he had burst out of the classroom doors and into the play area. Unfortunately, too, from what he and Carl had determined so far about the killer – and they had precious little to go on at this point – the perpetrator never remained in the area of the victim's abduction for long afterward, whisking the child away quickly to parts unknown; so the odds that Gus was still in the general vicinity of the school were highly unlikely at this point.

 

There was one other person, however, besides the killer who might know where his son was, and he was currently sitting in the backseat of their car. As his eyes once more glanced into the rearview mirror and locked onto the expressive blue ones peering pensively back at him, his conviction that Justin was directly involved began to falter somewhat. He wanted to lash out at someone earlier, and Taylor was the most convenient. Did that mean he was culpable in his son's disappearance, though? He had no way of knowing, but he was definitely going to personally question the man to find out. He had no doubt that he would be able to ascertain just how involved the blond was; over the years with the police department, he had developed an impressive interrogation technique and he was damned well going to stay at the precinct questioning this man until he was confident he got the answers he needed; after all, his son's life was literally depending upon it.

 

He had to forcefully pull his attention back to the road as his thoughts kept drifting over and over again to his son; Lindsey and Mel had been given instructions to contact the schoolmates of Gus' parents and wait at home for further word. They hadn't wanted to leave the school's premises, but there was really nothing else they could do except for one additional thing: his sergeant had given them permission to speak to the press on the condition that they simply explain their son was missing and where he had been at the time. They were NOT to go into details regarding the police's suspicion as to exactly who was responsible, although it was highly likely the correlation would immediately be drawn to the other children who had recently been kidnapped and killed. And they were NOT under any circumstances to mention the tape recording of the puppies or the cardboard box; Horvath felt they needed to hold onto that particular information, just like with the calling card and the pajamas, in hopes of eventually catching the real killer.

 

Brian sighed softly in frustration and heartbreak; each minute that ticked off the clock meant his son was edging closer to the point of no return. He noticed Carl glancing over at him sympathetically and he couldn't stand it any longer; he knew he was going against police procedure, but he couldn't help it – to hell with waiting. Directing his question to the back seat, he suddenly remarked, "You could save us all a lot of time and trouble if you just tell me where the fuck my son is." And possibly save his life as well as YOURS in the process…..

 

Justin was startled by the sound of Brian's voice; ever since they had begun their return trip back to the police station, there hadn't been any more conversation at all; he had been too wrapped up in worrisome thoughts of what was happening to Brian's son and just what would happen once they got back to the police station to say anything himself. He felt badly that he had drawn Daphne into this horrible mess, too, but at least she could corroborate the fact that he was nowhere near the school at the time of Gus' abduction; whether that would absolve him of any suspicion regarding his possible involvement in the crime was open to interpretation, though.

 

Justin huffed out an angry breath; how long were they going to battle over this? He felt like they were riding on a merry-go-round, over and over and over again, and they were wasting valuable time. They should be looking for the child or something, anything besides sitting here, arguing the genuineness of his unfortunate 'gift' yet again…. "I don't know how many times or how many different ways I can tell you this, Detective Kinney…..I had NOTHING to do with your son's kidnapping!"

 

"Brian….." Horvath issued a caveat as Brian fumed in helpless frustration over the blond's standard, pat response. "He's not been read his rights or even arrested; this is highly unethical."

 

"So is helping to abduct my son, Carl!" he snarled as Justin sighed in response. "You saw that drawing! You think he just dreamed that up? There's no fucking way!" Just thinking about what Justin had drawn, and how horribly realistic it was, made Brian's stomach twist in fear and loathing for whoever did take Gus.

 

"You are really something else, Kinney!" Daphne growled from her place in the backseat. "Look – I'm sorry your son is missing, but Justin was with ME at the police station when your friend called to report him gone, remember? How could he be responsible for any of it? You think the kil…..the kidnapper channeled his thoughts to him last night and he drew a sketch of it? Or do you think he called him last night on the phone and said, hey, here's who I'm scoping out tomorrow and here's what I'm going to do to snatch him – how about drawing up something for posterity?"

 

"Shut the fuck up, little girl!" Brian snapped angrily, his face red with fury and the veins prominently bulging out on his neck; just the notion of what that pervert might be doing to his son right now made his blood boil. "You're probably involved, too!"

 

"Brian, enough!" Carl shouted in disgust; he normally looked the other way when his maverick detective was tenaciously pursuing leads in a case and getting just a little too over the top, but this was hitting much too close to home. The whole situation was spinning wildly out of control. "Either you restrain your temper or I will get someone ELSE to handle this case, do you understand? You are going to have to stay neutral here or you're going to fuck everything up! Is that what you want?"

 

Brian bristled at the insinuation, but he knew his sergeant was right – he had to reel in his feelings of wrath and helplessness or he wouldn't do his son any good. There would be time later for releasing his fury on the appropriate party responsible. He gripped the steering wheel in a death hold as he breathed in and out, trying urgently to control himself. "Okay…..Yeah….yeah, I understand," he growled. "Just try to keep me out of his interrogation."

 

"Don't make threats, Kinney," Horvath warned with surprising calm, leaving no doubt that he would carry through on his promise to exclude him. "Give me your word or you know I'll do it." Both men knew there was too much at stake to blow their investigation by utilizing sloppy police tactics or not following proper procedure; the last thing they needed was to have any arrest and subsequent convictions thrown out on a technicality.

 

Justin listened to their exchange with rapt attention; surprised to hear the two policemen having such a strong disagreement. He didn't like the tone of voice that Brian was using, though, so accusatory and suspicious; what more could he do to convince this man that they were on the same side?

 

"I don't need to be read my rights or have a fucking attorney present," Justin told them emphatically, not really understanding how all that worked anyway. He had purposely stayed away from Hobbes' trial regarding his bashing, partly because his mother had insisted on him staying away 'to protect his health,' and partly because he knew deep down it wouldn't do any good anyway. Somehow he always knew the asshole would get away with what he had done to him, and he had been right. He had gotten a mere slap on the hand and had been released from probation supervision within the year.

 

Brian glanced over at his sergeant hopefully, wanting like crazy to just pepper Justin with a series of staccato questions in hope that he would finally break and reveal exactly what his part in these crimes were; the faster they got answers, the faster they could hopefully find his son. But to his extreme disappointment, Carl shook his head no at him.

 

"Son, for your own protection, I would strongly hold off saying anything further," Horvath counseled him.

 

"He's right, Justin; you need someone there to look out for you," Daphne told him, reaching over to grasp his sleeve.

 

Justin, however, almost angrily snatched it away from his friend. "You think I have something to hide, too, Daph?" he asked, the hurt apparent in his voice, feeling suddenly like perhaps she was starting to doubt him, also.

 

"Of course not!" she cried out defensively, insulted that Justin would think her loyalty was ever subject to wavering. "You KNOW that!"

 

Justin nodded and sighed, relieved. "I know, I'm sorry," he whispered, placing his head in his hands as he placed his elbows on his knees; he wasn't even sure at this point what he was saying or feeling – this whole thing was so surreal. It was almost like he was sleepwalking in someone else's nightmare, but he knew it was all too real…..and he knew he was smack dab in the center of it all, whether he wanted to be or not.

 

Daphne pursed her lips together and nodded. "It's okay," she murmured, leaning her head against Justin's forehead briefly in camaraderie. "I'm just so worried about you – and that little boy," she whispered.

 

Brian closed his eyes briefly as he heard her forlorn statement and his thoughts once more strayed to Gus, his larger-than-life, ebullient, happy-go-lucky son. When would this horrific episode end? Worse – how would it end? No, he wasn't going to think that way – he was going to find his boy, and he would be all right – he had to be…..

 

But from his place in the back seat, Justin wasn't going to be dissuaded about his intention to help; he was innocent and he could possibly help save this child's life – at least he had to try. He lifted his head as he spoke clearly. "I have nothing to hide. I want to help find your son," he told Brian softly, who continued to sit rigidly, his eyes fixed pointedly on the road ahead; inside, though, the brunet's stomach was still churning in nervous knots. Was it possible this man could really do what he said – help him find out where his son was – without being at least partly responsible?

 

"Prove it, then," he challenged as he glanced back in the rearview mirror at the blond. "Tell us everything you know – NOW." He glared over at his superior before Horvath had a chance to protest about the total disregard for procedure. "He wants to talk and we need information – and you know we don't have any time to waste; let him talk, then."

 

Carl let out a hesitant breath before finally nodding as he looked over the back seat at Justin. "Okay, then, son, if that's what you want to do; tell us everything you saw this last time."

 

Justin took a deep breath; the quiet in the car was enormous as everyone waited for him to speak. He licked his lips nervously, not really wanted to revisit what had happened last night but knowing that he had to for that little boy – Brian's little boy. "I…..I was sleeping," he began softly. "And the dreams started up again." He scrunched his eyes closed, as Brian's own eyes kept darting back and forth from the road to his passenger in the back seat. "I heard a man's voice – it was deep and raspy, but," he sucked in a breath at the absurd descriptive word that came to mind, but he said it anyway, "inviting."

 

He stopped short as he heard Brian hiss in disgust but he somehow found the courage to continue nonetheless. "I…..I mean – he was trying to talk your…..your son into going with him by asking him if he liked puppies." He sucked in a painful breath as the vision of last night washed over him. "He….he told him he would let him pick one out to take home with him, that it would just take a minute."

 

"Fuck!" Brian growled as he gripped the steering wheel even harder; whoever took his son knew exactly how to play on his tender emotions perfectly like some finely-tuned instrument. His son was a huge fan of the old PBS series, Wishbone, featuring a Jack Russell terrier who was a sort of talking detective. He was positively entranced with the small, black and white dog breed, and had been begging him for the same kind of puppy for the past year. Brian had been able to successfully deflect his son's most fervent wish so far, though, by telling him to wait until at least summer when school was out, but it seems his plan had cruelly backfired. The son of a bitch who had his child had managed to find the one weakness in his and the Munchers' safety instructions about not talking to or going with strangers anywhere. Gus….Why did you have to be so tender-hearted and accepting? he thought sorrowfully. He sucked in a worried breath before he was able to speak again. "What else?" he asked curtly.

 

Justin shook his head in regret. "That's all," he whispered. "Other than I could tell somehow that the man was with him at some playground because I could hear the sounds of children playing and see some swings in the background."

 

Brian harrumphed, extremely disappointed that was all the blond supposedly could recall. "Pretty damn detailed sketch for such a quick vision," he brusquely responded. "You managed to get all that in a couple of minutes?"

 

"I don't know how long I saw it, Brian!" Justin retorted, not even noticing his reverting to using Brian's first name. "I just know what I remembered!" He lowered his voice as he added, "I always wake up after I have them, though, and that's when I draw them. If I don't, I'm afraid I'll forget something that might help."

 

Brian didn't really know what to think of this man; the whole story was so ludicrous and yet there was such sincerity inherent in his voice; it almost made him want to believe him, but the whole thing was just so bizarre and farfetched. All he knew at the moment was that he had to find a way to locate his son before it was too late. "Don't think this will get you out of being questioned at the police station," he told Justin flatly. "Because it won't."

 

Justin sighed in frustration as he turned to look out the window – he once more pressed his right palm against the glass, hoping to somehow cool the emotions swirling furiously inside him as he felt the hard pane under his touch; he could feel Daphne's hand lightly pressed on his shoulder, his muscles stiff and tense beneath his skin from all the events that had happened since last night. He honestly didn't know what else he could do anymore to convince this stubborn man that he really was trying to help him and his son.

 

"Do whatever you need to do," he finally told Brian, not bothering to look back at him in the rearview mirror even though somehow he knew he if he turned his head he would see those intense hazel eyes boring into his again. "You can interrogate me all you want and fucking pull every fingernail out of my hands if that will make you feel better; the end result will still be the same – I can't tell you something I don't know or confess to something I had no control or knowledge of." His voice was strong and clear of any guilt, but his eyes misted over as he felt Daphne silently squeeze his shoulder in support. He reached back with his free hand and gently placed it on top of her slender one for a brief moment before he let it fall back into his lap and clasped both of his hands tightly together. He sucked in a breath and let it out with a whoosh, totally spent both mentally and physically. He had been awakened by the awful image of Brian's son last night, and since then his life had been a constant emotional whirlwind; unfortunately it showed no signs of letting up anytime soon, either…..It was merely late afternoon and he had no idea how long Kinney and his sergeant would keep him at the station, or even if he would be allowed to leave…..He turned now to look at Daphne, whose face was a mixture of worry and fear – worry for him but also fear over her involvement in something she had nothing to do with, other than coming along with him for moral support.

 

He addressed his question to Horvath. "Will you let Daphne leave once we get to the police station? She has nothing to do with this; she just came with me to help me explain."

 

So, Brian mused silently. He had been right – this was Justin's roommate. "I think she needs to stay," he said curtly. "We need to find out what she knows as well as you."

 

Justin huffed. "This is so ridiculous," he growled. "I told you – she knows NOTHING about this!"

 

Daphne took hold of Justin's arm. "That's not true, Justin," she pointed out. "I've been there when you've had your nightmares, remember? They need to know – I need to tell them – that you're telling the truth."

 

Brian sighed heavily from his place in the driver's seat; what else would he expect the man's roommate to say?

 

"You know," he heard Daphne say from the back seat. "You need to get off your high horse and start listening to what everyone's telling you, Detective. I don't know why you've got it in for Justin, but he's the most kindhearted person I know – he wouldn't even kill a fly if it took up residence inside our apartment! I'm really sorry about your son," she added more softly, noticing Brian's hand tense on the steering wheel as she mentioned his child, "really I am. But this is not helping him. If you want him back, you'd better start trying to decipher what Justin's trying to tell you and really listen to him."

 

Brian rolled his eyes at her insistent mantra, but still he had to admit – this woman had spunk; there weren't a lot of people who would be bold enough to challenge his authority and she hadn't so much as blinked an eye…..

 

"Thank you for telling me how to do my fucking job," he growled irascibly. "I'll make sure you have plenty of time to impart other tidbits of wisdom while we're questioning you and Kreskin at length."

 

Carl shook his head in defeat; he gave up. He knew in Brian's tormented state of mind that he would not listen to his advice to cool the bantering back and forth. It was highly unorthodox to engage a potential suspect in a lengthy conversation on the way to the station, but then again, Taylor wasn't an official suspect and he, along with his friend, seemed more than willing to divulge information; he wasn't as if he was being coerced in any way. He silently, then, kept his mouth shut and merely listened intently to what both had to say, as well as their tone of voice. He had found through his several years' of police work that often times a suspect's veracity could be determined not so much by what they said but by how they said it. And his cop's instinct was telling him that this couple meant what they said. How that would pan out in the case of Brian's son, however, remained to be seen.

 


 

Ninety Minutes Later – Police Precinct

 

Justin sweated under the hot fluorescent lights overhead in the same room he had been taken to a few days ago when he had initially come here to discuss his first vision. He might have actually laughed at the stereotypical setting of the room – bars on the squat, square, dirty windows, sparse, hard-as-rock furniture, and a small oblong table set up at the far end of the room with a large, silver-colored pitcher of ice water and two long, clear glasses sitting adjacent to it. The only thing missing was the single, bare light bulb undulating overhead as Brian and Horvath played good cop, bad cop. Of course there was no question which policeman was playing which part; Brian had started his rehearsal the moment he had gotten behind the driver's seat of the police car and hadn't let up since…..

 

"One more time, Taylor," Brian commanded, leaning over Justin from the other side of the table, his arms locked rigidly in place as his tall frame loomed over him. "When was the first vision you had and how did they start?"

 

"Brian…." Carl admonished him, knowing Kinney had asked Justin that same question twice already, albeit in slightly different variations. The first time he had wanted to know what caused him to draw his first sketch of a child's body lying at the bottom of a ravine; the second time he wanted to know why he had decided to pay them a visit at the police station.

 

"What part of his first and second answer didn't you understand?" Daphne called out from the end of the table where she had been positioned, her eyes flashing in astonished anger. "This is bullshit!" she growled as she looked at Justin's face and crossed her arms across her chest in disgust. Her friend's normally pale skin was dark pink and blotchy, signs she recognized as Justin's normal expression when he was frustrated and highly upset about something. The last time she had seen that look, he had just been a witness to a gay friend of his being subjected to heckling and horrid name-calling after leaving the school's rathskeller, the tavern where all the students hung out to unwind. It had taken both her and the heckled friend holding Justin back to prevent him from rushing the trio of assholes, who must have each outweighed him by over fifty pounds. He had had the same exact expression then that he was wearing now – the same flushed face, the darkened blue eyes, and the pursed lips. Well, she couldn't really blame him for how he was feeling – she was feeling the exact same way; she just did a better job of hiding it. That still didn't mean, though, that she had any problem whatsoever verbally expressing her displeasure.

 

"Brian, she's right," Carl told his subordinate. "We have asked Mr. Taylor all the questions we can, and he has answered them the same way each time. And she corroborates his story; plus both Rogers and Satterwhite verified he was actually here in the precinct building when Ms. Peterson called to tell you your son was missing. According to the timeline, it would have been impossible for him to be directly involved."

 

"Directly….that's the key word here, Sarge," he told his superior as Justin shook his head in disbelief. "I still say no one has the 'power' he claims to have without being involved somehow."

 

Justin abruptly pushed his chair back and stood up as Daphne's eyes widened in surprise. "I've had it!" Justin shouted, flailing his arms wildly; his 'country club' upbringing quickly evaporating as he snapped, "I have told you every fucking thing I know! Either charge me with something or let me and Daphne go!"

 

Brian stood back from his place at the table and raised up to his entire 6'2" frame as he stared intently back at this feisty blond; this was a new side of him. He hadn't exactly been timid as a mouse before, but he was roaring like a lion now. "I'm not done with you," Brian told him, his eyes narrowed.

 

"Oh, yes you are!" Justin told him. "Either charge me with something or I'm leaving!" He peered over at Horvath for verification that he was correct in his assumption that he was free to go; his nerves were frayed to the breaking point now and he just simply couldn't take it anymore. He already was certain that sleep would not be forthcoming tonight; he only prayed that he wouldn't see anything else in his mind's eye in addition to what he already knew.

 

"He's right, Brian," Carl told his detective, who started to open his mouth to vehemently protest. Carl held up his hand to stymie him, his jaw set with resolve. "We can't prove he's involved with any of these killings – or your son's kidnapping. Unless we have direct proof – which we don't," he told him, his face steeled for an argument, "He's free to go."

 

"But…."

 

"No, Brian," he told his detective regretfully. "We've asked him and his friend all we can and we're running out of time – you and I both know that," he told Brian softly, noticing a flicker of pain flash across his face in agreement. He turned to look at Justin and nod. "You can go, Mr. Taylor; but stay close by in case we have further questions." He looked over at the artist's sketchpad lying on top of the table, open to Taylor's latest sketch. "We'll need to keep your sketchbook," he told him.

 

Justin nodded as Daphne stood back from her chair to walk over and stand next to him. "Fine," he grated out in a clipped tone of voice. "I never want to see those drawings ever again." He reached over to take Daphne's hand as he glared back at Brian in resentment; there was apparently nothing he could ever do to convince this man he wasn't responsible for what had happened to his son, but he was still unable to prevent just a sliver of sympathy from rising to the surface. After all, the man's son was missing and most likely would be dead if he wasn't found soon. "Come on, Daph," he said to his friend as they walked around the table and approached Brian.

 

The brunet refused to budge from his position, staring intently at Justin and Daphne as they walked up to him on their way over to the exit door. Daphne had a hold on his arm and was trying to pull him along, but Justin had to stop just long enough to say softly, "I hope you find him, Detective. I really do."

 

Brian bit his lower lip and simply stood there, fixed in place, staring back at the enigma known as Justin Taylor. Even now, even after all the times he had observed him and talked to him, he still couldn't figure out just who this man was.

 

Justin nodded, realizing their 'conversation' was obviously over, before he quickly allowed Daphne to pull him toward the door. As it quietly closed behind them, he let out an enormous sigh of relief to be out of that constricting, oven-like room. Even though they were no longer confined physically, though, he knew his heart and soul would be imprisoned for a long time to come as long as the visions kept appearing, and he had no reason to believe they wouldn't.

 

"Let's go, Justin," he heard Daphne say as, together, they resolutely walked down the tiled hallway and out the front door, the bright sunshine making a mockery of what had transpired that day.

 


 

Same Time – Across Town

 

The man softly hummed one of his son's favorite tunes as he slowly buttoned the top of the crisp, new pajama set he had purchased yesterday for Tommy's newest addition to his baseball team; it was fitting that one of his son's favorite songs was one about centerfield, even though this particular child was going to play shortstop on the team. Once he had taken care of sending this boy to join his son, though, that would leave only one position left to fill – the somewhat unglamorous but still all-important role of catcher. For that position, however, he would need someone stockier and stronger than this slender, slight child. He would have to go out and search for just the right child soon….

 

He reached over to the nightstand to retrieve the latest heart he had constructed for this child – the one with the red'3s' all over the yellow surface, along with a small, silver safety pin. Carefully threading the pin through the front of the paper, he smiled. Soon his son would have yet another friend to play with in heaven, he thought, as he reached over and securely pinned the heart to the white, baseball-themed pajamas, right over the child's chest. "Just a little longer," he murmured as he stared at the heavily sedated child. "Just a little longer."

 


 

Justin and Daphne's Apartment – One Hour Later

 

"Justin? Want some coffee or hot tea? Coke?"

 

Justin smirked in resignation from his position on the couch; he was lying lengthwise on it, but knew there would be no sleep for him tonight. "Not unless you have the snorting kind," he called out sarcastically to his friend who was in the kitchen; he meant it as a teasing sort of quip but he was only half-kidding. He wished he had something, anything, to make him sleep, because he knew he wouldn't be getting any tonight without medicinal help. Even if he did have something, though, he was too afraid that he would wind up with some sort of hallucinations, so he wouldn't be comfortable using it anyway. With his luck, he would be among that percentage of the population who was prone to sleepwalking and vivid dreams while taking such medication, and that was the last thing he wanted at the moment.

 

Daphne came out of the kitchen with her hand cupped around a dark-blue porcelain mug. "Sure I can't get you anything, Justin?" she asked sympathetically.

 

Justin sighed as he tilted his head to stare up at her. "No," he said resignedly. "I'm afraid what I need can't be found either in a prescription bottle or a mug." No, what he needed was a dreamless, sound slumber, free of the horrific visions that were constantly plaguing him now. As Daphne sat down on the edge of the couch, he told her softly, "And to think my mom said I could use these visions to do some good." He shook his head in disgust. "All it's brought me and everyone else who's come into contact with them is heartache and pain." He rubbed his hands over his face wearily. "Some gift."

 

Daphne twisted her mouth sympathetically. "I'm so sorry, Justin. I wish I knew how to help you; and how to help Kinney's little boy."

 

Justin swallowed an impossibly large lump in his throat at the mention of the child; what was he going through right now? Was he in pain? Was he scared? Was he even alive? Without knowing all the details, he had been able to glean enough from the two policemen's conversations to know the little boy was running out of time, if he was even still alive. And if that happened, he would carry that haunting fact with him for the rest of his life. The biggest fear of all, though, was that the killer wasn't done. What was to stop him from doing this to another boy, and so on and so on and so on? Who would stop this elusive shadow of hatred from killing again?

 

"I do, too, Daphne," he finally said. "I do, too."

 


 

Same Time

 

Carl stood inside Brian's office doorway, observing his detective's slumped shoulders and ragged appearance as he stared into his laptop; he was balancing his cell phone wedged on one shoulder as he held the landline receiver in his left hand, keeping track of any updates coming in regarding his son. Brian's hair was mussed and disheveled from the several times he had run his hands restlessly through his hair in frustration and worry, and the only illumination coming from the laptop screen only served to make him look even more haggard and pale in appearance. From his vantage point in the doorway, Carl had no trouble discerning the deep lines creased around the younger man's eyes and tightness of his drawn lips as he stared at the screen, his eyes glassy from exhaustion and fruitlessly reviewing the same information, over and over again, hoping desperately that he had missed one vital clue.

 

Carl knocked quietly on the open door as Brian wearily raised his head to stare back at him. Horvath slowly walked into the office and sat down in one of the chairs opposite Brian's desk, the same one that Justin had perched in earlier when he had made the astounding identity of the killer's next victim. Right now, it seemed like an eternity ago to Horvath; undoubtedly it felt the same way to Brian, too.

 

"Nothing?" he asked softly, as he gently placed a cup of strong black coffee down in front of Brian.

 

Brian silently shook his head, the tears evident in his eyes; he did nothing to hide his grief and extreme worry over Gus now. His hope was quickly fading that his son would be found alive; he knew the killer's normal pattern and the 24-hour window was quickly disappearing. His biggest fear was that the next time he saw Gus, he would be lying at the bottom of a ravine, cold and lifeless, just like all the other victims had been.

 

He bit back a sob as he suddenly stood up and roughly wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his leather jacket; he couldn't stand it any longer. He had no idea what he was going to do, but he just couldn't remain safely ensconced in his cocoon of an office while his son was out there somewhere, fighting for his life.

 

"Where are you going?" Carl asked him as Brian quickly scooted out from behind his desk.

 

"I don't know," Brian told him candidly as he stopped in the doorway. "I know I just can't sit here, hoping that something will break before it's too late. I…I have to get out of here, Carl."

 

Carl stared at him, knowing he would feel the same way; he knew how powerless Brian must feel, and how it was not in his nature to just sit there and hope some miracle would happen. He nodded in understanding. "I'll call you if I hear anything, Brian. And let me know if you think of anything that might help."

 

Brian nodded as he turned and quickly walked down the hallway toward the parking garage. He refused to look anyone in the eyes as he passed them, because he didn't want to see the misguided compassion and uncomfortable expressions he knew he would find there. He had no time for such emotions – he couldn't waste his energy on well-intentioned co-workers expressing their sympathy over his son's imminent death. He refused to grieve for his child – Gus was alive. Damn it; he was alive….

 

As he reached the unmarked sedan, he wrenched the door open and quickly slid in. A few seconds later, the squeal of the tires reverberated against the hard, cold cement walls of the parking garage as Brian sped out of the facility, driving furiously toward a destination, anywhere, hoping somehow his pain would go away…..

 


 

Thirty Minutes Later

 

Justin listened to the regular, soft whoosh of his exhales and inhales in the quiet of the living room. At his insistence, Daphne had retired to her bedroom, despite her wish to remain with him. He had finally persuaded her it would do neither one of them any good to both endure a night of insomnia; after much haggling, he had finally convinced his friend to go onto bed, noticing how exhausted she looked after their ordeal today.

 

For a short time, he had tried to watch a little television, hoping the inane sitcom being broadcast over one of the local stations would somehow lull him to sleep, however restless it might be. But he just lay there, unblinking as if in a trance, as the show continued to drone on. After fifteen minutes of staring at the picture, he had finally turned it off with the remote, resigned to spending his night fitfully on their somewhat lumpy couch.

 

His heart hammered furiously in his chest as he heard someone suddenly knocking on their front door. He glanced over at Daphne's bedroom, noticing her door was closed completely; apparently she had not heard anything. Should he answer the door or ignore it? After everything that had happened, he couldn't be sure this person wasn't somehow connected to the murders; did the killer somehow find out that he knew something about him and come looking for him?

 

"Daph…."he began before he changed his mind. He didn't want his friend to be in danger, too. The sound of knocking commenced again as his heart lurched at the sound. Warily, he rose from the couch and sat on the edge of it for a moment before he stood up and quietly crept over to the front door. He leaned up against the wood surface as he listened with his ear to the door, trying to ascertain who it was; all he could hear, however, was some slight rustling noises on the other side.

 

He jumped as the knocking sounded again; he could feel the vibrations from the rapping buzzing against his body as he pulled back and swallowed hard. Biting his lip in apprehension and wishing he had a peep hole to see through, he debated what to do for several seconds, hoping the person would leave, but the knocking sounded once more, this time even more frantically than before.

 

Call it a sixth sense or an extension of his terrible, awesome 'gift,' but something in Justin's mind told him the person on the other side meant him no harm. Gingerly, then, he took a deep breath and slid the deadbolt back until the door was unsecured. He took another deep breath of courage before he slowly opened the door slightly and instantly recognized the tear-stained, distraught face staring back at him in defeat; a child's Pittsburgh Pirates cap was tightly clutched in the man's hand, resembling a wrinkled, wrung-out washcloth.

 

"You've got to help me find him," Brian said without preamble, his eyelashes glistening. "Please…."

 

Justin stared into the haunted eyes for a few seconds and noticed the look of frantic worry and helplessness on the handsome detective's face; gone was the cocky, arrogant, cynical man he was used to seeing. Instead, in his place was a father desperate to find a son he loved more than life itself; a son he could never imagine living his life without.

 

"Please," Brian whispered again, all conceit and swagger long gone as he held out his free hand and firmly grasped Justin's wrist. "Help me; help me find my son."

Chapter Text

Justin bit his lip in indecision for a few seconds, but he knew in the end there could only be one choice.  Their eyes locked on each other briefly before he nodded and silently held the door open for Brian to enter. 

 

He watched as the handsome man walked into his and Daphne’s apartment and stood in the center of the cramped living room; like a true detective, Brian’s eyes swept around the small, typical college residence, making a cursory study of what he saw.  Justin wondered if he was still sizing him up as to whether or not he was some hidden accomplice of the killer before Brian turned to look at him, his face clearing showing the extreme anxiety he felt for his son.  

 

“You want to sit down?” Justin asked him quietly, thinking how absurd it seemed at the moment that he was trying to play host in light of the situation; oddly, even though he had been angry as hell earlier for this man continuing to accuse him of being involved in his son’s abduction, as he looked over at the handsome but anguished face, he felt nothing but profound sympathy for him.

 

Brian hesitated for a couple of seconds before he looked behind him for a place to sit and settled for a seat on the edge of the worn couch.  He didn’t really know why he had wound up here at Taylor’s apartment; he had spent the last several minutes driving around the area near the school where Gus had last been seen, cruising around aimlessly, his eyes searching everywhere for something, anything, to help him find out where he son was.  But there was nothing……not a damn thing to help lead him where he needed to go.  There were dozens of police cars and foot patrol officers scouring the entire city – even the highway patrol and county boys were helping in the search – but without any tangible clues as to the kidnapper’s identity, there was really nothing specific to find.  There was no starting point – nothing to look for, except for what had to be a scared, alone little boy somewhere…..Gus…..Daddy’s coming…..just hold on a little longer…..He squeezed his eyes shut as the pain washed over him, feeling a few more tears escape before he slowly opened them to find the blond peering back at him from his place on the couch; he hadn’t even felt or heard Justin sit down near him and now the younger man was gazing at him with what could only be a mix of pity and sorrow. 

 

As a last resort, he had found his way here, to this enigmatic man’s apartment, in a desperate, last-hope effort to find Gus.  He still had no idea what to make of Justin Taylor; again, he had to be either the greatest actor on earth, or he really wasn’t involved with his son’s disappearance because he was doing one hell of a job at the moment of appearing sincere.  He even noticed some tears in the other man’s eyes as they shone back at him in thoughtful reflection.  He gazed down at the black and gold baseball cap he was still twisting in his hands as he took a deep, shuddering breath and let it out before whispering, “I…..I need to find my son.”  He swallowed hard and lifted his eyes to meet the intense blue ones before adding, “His……his time is running out.  If you really can see what’s going on, you’ve got to help me.”  He held out Gus’ cap to the other man.  “Take this and tell me what you see.”

 

Justin bit his lip helplessly as he looked down at the crumpled child’s cap.  “I….I want to help you find him, Brian.  God, I really do.”  He took a deep breath, the regret etched on his face as he lifted his eyes to meet the other man’s tormented gaze.  “But…..but it doesn’t work that way.  I can’t just think up a vision of something.  I don’t know when it will happen.  It could be weeks before I see something again – I don’t have any control over them.” 

 

Brian’s eyes flashed, his heart breaking as he lashed out at Justin in desperation.  “Don’t fucking TELL me that, Justin!  You’ve got to TRY, damn it!”  He choked on his words as he said urgently, “This is my son we’re talking about!”  He thrust the cap into Justin’s hands.  “Take it!”

 

“Brian….” His eyes filled with further tears; he knew how much this man must love his son, and he would do anything to help ease his pain and find his little boy.  But he wasn’t a psychic machine that could be programmed at will to pop out answers.  He never knew when he would see something again; there was never any rhyme or reason to it.  It could be in an hour, a week, a month.  It might not happen again for years; he had no way of knowing.  It seemed the height of irony, then, that just as this man was needing help so desperately and he would actually welcome the intrusion, the visions he normally dreaded were nowhere to be found….

 

“I’m….I’m sorry,” he whispered back to the brunet as he rubbed one hand through his hair in frustration. “So fucking sorry.  But I can’t just will them to occur, as much as I might like them to this time.  I can’t do anything to make them appear; they just show up in my dreams or suddenly in the middle of the day. I have no foreknowledge of when they’ll happen.”  The other man appeared to be almost physically struck at his response as Justin whispered regretfully, “I wish I could this time – I really wish I could.”

 

Brian snatched the priceless cap back and stood up abruptly, totally distraught at his refusal.  He had no idea where to go or who to turn to, and now the only hope he had left had refused to help him.  Fair or not, he bristled as he whirled around to huff out, “You didn’t have any problems painting a nice, accurate picture of your other visions when the mood struck you BEFORE!  Now when I’m swallowing my fucking pride and asking you for help you refuse?

 

Justin’s eyes narrowed in anger; he knew this man was responding out of deep pain and fear over where his son was and what was happening to him, but he was being vastly unfair.  He stood up to face him, his eyes darkened with resentment.  “I’ve tried to help you for days now!  Not ONCE did you give me the benefit of the doubt!  You kept insinuating I had something to do with the murders!  And now that you finally come here to ask for my help and I’m honest with you about my ability, you only get angrier!  Don’t you think I would help you if I could?  Don’t you think this is tearing me up as well?  Do you think I enjoy seeing what he’s doing to all these little boys?  To your boy?”  He flinched slightly as Brian stared daggers at him at the mention of his son.  “Do you honestly think I’m the same kind of monster, just like him?  Do you, Brian?  Answer me!”  He grabbed Brian’s wrist to get his attention, only to have him snatch it back away from him angrily, almost as if he had been burned. 

 

He stared intently into the almost-black eyes glaring back at him silently but he didn’t back down.  “I asked you a question, Brian!  Do you really think I’m capable of helping someone like that?  Do you?  Because if you do, then what are you doing here?” 

 

Brian pursed his lips tightly together as he continued to stare into the defiant blue eyes.  Did he think this man was capable of that?   What did his police intuition tell him this time?  He searched the beautiful, determined face for several seconds before his expression eventually softened into a hint of apology.  “No,” he finally whispered as he shook his head and went with his gut; he was at a critical crossroads when it involved his son.  Perhaps it was time he climbed out on a limb and trusted this man; he might be his only hope of finding Gus alive…….  “No,” he admitted.  “I don’t think you’re like him.” 

 

“That’s not good enough,” Justin told him to his surprise; he was a little sorry he was being so curt with him, but he still needed to hear more.  “I asked if you think I’m involved.  Do you still believe that I had something to do with those murders – or with your son’s abduction?  Brian?” he continued to press.

 

The brunet locked gazes with him for several seconds before he finally shook his head, his detective instincts kicking in.  “No…..No, I don’t think so,” he told him firmly at last.

 

Justin stood there, his hands on his hips for a few seconds longer before he took a deep breath to calm down and finally nodded, feeling only slightly vindicated that at last this man wasn’t accusing him of helping that heinous monster with killing and kidnapping those children.  He sighed heavily, not sure what to do now.  He brushed one hand restlessly through his blond hair and shook his head slightly, wondering how he could help this man.  Brian was lightly bouncing up and down from one foot to the other in restless agitation, barely able to stand still while he worried about how to find his son; it didn’t take a psychic to determine how he was feeling.  “I…..I don’t know how to help you, Brian,” he told the other man honestly.  “I would give anything to help you find your son.  You have to believe that.” 

 

Brian peered into the intense blue eyes that seemed to go on forever.  He didn’t see any sign of complicity or subterfuge there, only sympathy and mirrored pain – the same agony he was feeling at the moment.  “I’m trying to,” he found himself softly replying and he meant it.  In the quiet of the man’s apartment, away from the hectic glare and frantic pace of the police station, he was seeing more clearly now.  This man didn’t seem to be a killer of children anymore than he was….. “I’m trying to believe that,” he repeated sincerely as Justin’s eyes filled with renewed tears and he nodded silently in acknowledgment.

 

Brian sighed as his shoulders drooped in realization; Justin had been his last hope to find his son and his heart slowly began to shatter into a million pieces at the realization that it wasn’t going to happen.  He slumped back down onto the couch and placed his head in his hands, the cap resting protectively on his lap.  “I….I don’t know where to find him,” he confessed to Justin in a choked voice.  He laughed derisively at the irony.  “I do this for a living and I’m damn good at what I do, but I have no fucking idea this time where to start.”  He clenched the cap tightly in his hands as he stared at it, the only piece of his son he had at the moment.  Would it be the last thing of his son he would ever see?  “I…..I told him we would go to the ball game tomorrow, just the two of us,” he whispered as Justin’s eyes filled with renewed tears at the anguish in his voice.  “I was even going to buy him a fucking hot dog,” he told his companion.   “I never eat that shit, but for……for him…..” He couldn’t even finish the sentence.  It was all too much; the thought of never seeing his son alive again, what he was enduring at the hands of this inhuman monster, and the thought that he would likely never see him alive again was too much to bear.  He quietly began to sob, his sorrow palpable.

 

 

Same Time – Killer’s Farmhouse

 

“Just a little more,” the man murmured to the unconscious boy as he reached over to the nightstand to grab the round-handled, wooden hairbrush.  He smiled slightly as he began to slowly comb the child’s hair, back and forth, back and forth, until it shone under the sun’s quickly waning rays.  Soon, very soon, it would be dark.  That was his favorite time to finish preparing each child for their trip to be united with his son.  He could easily navigate the back streets of Pittsburgh under the umbrella of night in his truck, undetected, the child curled up on the bench seat next to him as he chose his final resting place. 

 

He always deliberately chose a spot where the child eventually would be found; he wasn’t totally heartless to the parents’ anguish.  After all, he had been through the same experience with his own child, and he knew he would have no need of their physical shells.  He knew once the child was dead, it was only his spirit that Tommy would need.  Growing up in the Protestant Church, he had always been taught that once they arrived in heaven, every child would be made whole in a wonderful new body, so the parents would get their child’s physical manifestation to bury and remember while his son would get the playmates he so richly deserved.  This way everyone would be happy, he thought with a nod.  Yes…..just a little bit longer, he thought as he placed the hairbrush down and reached for the child’s original clothing, intending to carefully fold the apparel and place it in the trunk, along with the rest of the children’s outfits.

 

“I’ll be just a minute,” he needlessly assured the sleeping boy as he stood up and walked toward the doorway; he had given the boy a little more chloroform earlier with the washcloth so there would be no chance he would awaken from the initial application.  That had happened once before and he had had to move up his normal schedule before everything was in order.  He turned in the doorway to make sure the boy was still lying motionless before he turned to walk down the narrow, creaky hallway toward the bedroom shrine to his son at the other end.  After this child, he had one more to go until his son would have an entire team to play with.  “It won’t be long at all now, Tommy,” he assured the boy out loud as he turned the old-fashioned crystal door knob and opened the entrance to the other room.  “Not long at all.”

 

 

Brian felt a warm hand brush against his back tentatively at first, and then more assuredly as he slowly lifted his red-rimmed eyes to turn and stare into Justin’s.   The blue eyes were remarkably soothing and contemplative as they quietly gazed back at him in concern.  The blond pulled his hand back awkwardly as soon as their eyes made contact as if he were afraid of what Brian would think; after all, it hadn’t been too long ago that the brunet thought he had been at least indirectly involved with the killings…..

 

“I….I wish there was something I could do,” Justin told him softly. 

 

Brian wiped his eyes with one of his shirt sleeves in part embarrassment at having broken down in front of someone; he never did that with any of his cases, always staying strong and detached no matter how unspeakable the crime was.  It was what made him such a good, analytical detective.  But this was different; this was his son…… He swallowed the cold lump in his throat before stating, “Maybe you can.”

 

Justin frowned at the unexpected reply.  “What?”

 

Brian stared into his eyes, his resolve ramping up just a bit.  He hated to do it for both their sakes, but it was necessary.  “You can go over everything you remember about Gus’ kidnapping again – all of it, bit by bit.  Maybe there’s something you’ve forgotten or some little piece of it that you thought was insignificant that really wasn’t.  You can tell me again – second by second; every detail you can recall.” 

 

Justin sighed; he detested that idea.  He was desperately trying to forget all of his horrific visions, not relive them.  But there was one big difference this time – before, he had been too late; all the boys had already been dead.  As far as they knew, Gus was the exception; he was still alive, but from what Brian had told him it wouldn’t be for long if he wasn’t found soon.  As much heartbreak it brought him, then, how could he refuse this man’s request?  He thought he had written down as much as he could remember in the sketch he had provided to the police, but perhaps there was something he had forgotten….

 

“Okay,” he agreed softly as he stared straight ahead, his eyes unfocused as he tried feverishly to recall every detail of his vision.  “Uh….it was around 2:30 in the morning – last night,” Justin began, shivering slightly as the same feeling of dread as before washed over him just at the memory of what he remembered.  “I….I woke up sweating and breathing heavily from a dream, just like I always do when I start to have the visions.”  He inhaled a breath and let it out to calm himself before he continued.  “I….I could see your little boy in my mind’s eye,” he whispered.  “He was on the school playground, in a grassy field.  I….I could see his face.  He was so fascinated by the sound of puppies……They were in a banged up cardboard box; at least that’s where the sound was coming from,” Justin corrected, knowing now that there WERE no puppies, merely the sound from a well-placed tape recorder. 

 

Brian squirmed in his seat, torn between needing to know every detail of Justin’s dream in case something, anything, would stand out as a possible clue and needing to get back out on the streets to search for his son before it was simply too late.  It had been several hours already and it would be dark soon.  He knew typically the killer brazenly snatched his victim in the heat of the day, just like Gus, only to dispose of him by early the next day.  That meant he at best had a few more hours before……before it would be too late.  “Justin……please…..,” he beseeched the other man in an unspoken bid for him to hurry up with his narration. 

 

Justin seemed to sense Brian’s understandable urgency as he nodded.  He looked down in his lap to concentrate before continuing.  “I…..I could hear a man’s voice asking your son if he liked puppies,” he said in a faraway voice as he painfully relived the vision all over again.  He smiled a little.  “Gus was so excited about the idea.”  He turned his head to stare into Brian’s tormented eyes and his slight smile instantly vanished.  “The…..the man was standing on the other side of a metal fence, holding the box in his hands as your son approached a little timidly at first, but the man kept talking to him to make him more at ease”  Justin shuddered visibly.  “As your son approached him to look inside the box……,” he closed his eyes in agony at the memory, “…..The man dropped the box and grabbed him by the hand to pull him up over the fence and carry him off.”  He licked his lips nervously as Brian flinched in pain.  “I….I don’t know what he did exactly, but the last thing I remember is……”

 

“What?” Brian asked him, afraid to know but knowing he had to for his son’s sake.  “Justin?”

 

The blond bit his lower lip in sorrow.  “The last thing I remember is Gus going limp as if…..as if the man had given him something to put him to sleep.”

 

Brian’s eyes filled with tears again at what that monster must be doing to his son.  He rubbed his face with his hand as his other one continued to grasp the ball cap tightly and his face hardened in fury.  “God,” he moaned, as all sorts of horrible thoughts rushed through his mind; he stood up, unable to stand still and began to pace back and forth in agitation.  “I’m going to fucking KILL him,” he promised with deadly calm.  “When I get done with him, he’ll BEG me to kill him.” 

 

Justin looked up at Brian, feeling the man’s anger mixed with desperation.  He struggled somehow to help ease his mind just a bit.  “I….I don’t think Gus knew a thing when it happened,” he told the other man softly. 

 

Brian whirled on him, his eyes wide with fear as his heart stopped in his chest.  “What do you mean….when it happened?  Is he…..is he…..what did you see?”

 

“No, no,” Justin hurried to clarify as he stood up to join Brian and grasped his sleeve.  “I mean…when the man took him, I think whatever he did to make Gus go limp happened so fast that he didn’t know what happened to him.  I don’t mean I think he’s dead,” he reassured him, still grasping firmly onto his wrist. 

 

Brian gazed into the thoughtful blue eyes, so full of sympathy and concern.  His residual doubts that Justin had something to do with Gus’ disappearance were quickly waning the longer he spoke to him.  It was almost as if being away from all the hectic, pressing activity at the police station earlier had turned the blond into a different person, a person who he could judge a little more accurately. 

 

He stared into the other face, placing his hands on the slender upper arms.  “Justin, do you remember anything else?” he asked urgently.  “Anything at all?  What about the killer’s face, his voice?  Did you see what he looked like?  Anything?  You….you said he carried Gus off…..what about what he was driving? Think hard….”

 

Justin nodded, closing his eyes to try and focus on his last vision.  He was standing so close to Brian now, he could actually feel the other man’s breath lightly blowing on his face as he waited for him to answer.  Did he remember anything else?  He thought back to the man waiting by the fence; it was as if he were standing behind him.  He could see the man’s hand reaching out to Gus, the box held in his hands.  From his vantage point behind him, all he could remember was the man’s stocky hand; the rest of his body was hazy, misshapen and blurry.  “I….I can see his hand….that’s all,” he whispered.  “It’s a….a large hand, pudgy.  He’s wearing some sort of glove, though…”  He opened his eyes to stare into the intense hazel ones. 

 

“Glove?” Brian prodded him.  That would certainly explain why they could never get any fingerprints on the fucker.

 

Justin nodded.  “Yeah….something like latex or vinyl….”  He scrunched his face in concentration as a sudden detail came back to him.  “There was something on it, though; something white….. like maybe paint.” 

 

Brian digested that additional piece of information.  Was the glove a work glove?  Was this guy a painter or something?  “Justin…..think.  You said you saw Gus being carried away.  Did you see where the man was taking him, what kind of vehicle it was?” 

 

Justin bit his lip, deliberately averting his gaze from the intensity of Brian’s stare, finding himself feeling inexplicably awkward, almost shy under his study.  He stared at where the bronze skin of Brian’s neck and his shirt collar met, his focus unfixed, as he tried to recall if he had seen anything else.  He could remember the sounds of children playing, knowing now that Gus was at a playground, but had he seen anything after the man had swept him up into his arms?  Why couldn’t he remember what the man himself looked like if he knew he had carried him away?  All he could clearly see, though, was the man’s one hand stretched out toward the child; the rest was like some out-of-focus television screen.

 

But what about his vehicle?  He closed his eyes tightly, his breath shallow and rapid.  He could see the man reach for Gus to sweep him up into his arms; he could a shadow of the larger man turn his back to him and walk away as the child’s legs and arms went limp seconds later like some rag doll.  The man seemed to disappear into a smoky haze from there, almost as if he were walking into a fog…..

 

He sighed, feeling exhausted; his shoulders drooping as he slowly opened his eyes to see Brian staring anxiously at him.  “I…..I can’t remember anything else, Brian,” he admitted in defeat as he locked his gaze to look into the disappointed eyes.  “That’s where my vision ended.”  He sighed.  “I’m…..I’m so sorry.” 

 

Brian swallowed the lump in his throat as he nodded silently, his hopes once more fading just like the setting sun outside the somewhat dusty windows of Justin’s apartment.  Soon it would be dark – that would make it ten times harder to locate his son, even if he DID have an idea where to start.  He released his hold on Justin to turn around, noticing for the first time several paintings scattered around the room, on bookshelves and on the walls.  He was in no mood to play art critic, but even in his despair, the dramatic pieces stood out and he had seen enough of Justin’s work to realize they were his.  “You painted those.”  It was a statement, not a question.

 

“Yes,” he heard the one-word reply from behind him. 

 

Brian nodded distractedly, able to acknowledge the talent and artistic skill behind the works but unable to fully appreciate them because of his great worry over his son.  For the first time since he had become a detective, he really had no idea what else to do or where to go to help solve the case.  He had been on his feet, frantically running toward anything that might point to his son ever since he had found out he was missing, but he felt like a rat in a maze, only reaching dead ends or twists and turns but never getting anywhere. 

 

He turned around to face the blond; Justin was still standing near him, his eyes broadcasting the same type of concern and worry that his own eyes were showing.  “I….I have to go,” Brian told him, convinced that Justin had told him everything he remembered.  Unfortunately except for the glove, it was all the same information as before.  He still had no idea where exactly he was going, but he couldn’t just stand there immobile while his son was being subjected to who knows what.  He was in constant contact with Horvath, and knew if he heard anything at all from either their peers, or the county and state boys, he would be calling him.  The fact that he hadn’t received any calls in the last half hour told him that his sergeant didn’t have any more promising leads than he did.  He had to get back out there, though; there was still the chance, however slim, that something would occur to help him find his son. 

 

“I…..I appreciate you trying to help,” he told Justin softly.  “But I have to keep looking for my son.” 

 

Justin watched the detective turn to leave; his heart broke at the look of despair on the man’s face.  How he wished he could remember something that would help steer him to his son; he knew they were quickly running out of time to find him, but he couldn’t force his visions to appear despite his desperate wish to help the detective. 

 

The words were out of his mouth before he really had time to consider the consequences.  “Wait,” Justin said to Brian as he reached the front door and placed his hand on the knob.  “Let me go with you.”   

 

Brian turned around in surprise.  “Go with me?”

 

Justin nodded.  “Yeah….. Maybe I can help.”  He couldn’t believe he was even suggesting such a thing; up until a short while ago, he had still been angry with Brian for his steady refusal to believe him.  Now he was agreeing to help go look for his son, Gus?  But that was before he had had a good opportunity to see how devastated the detective was; this was the first parent of one of the missing children he had come into direct contact with, and it quickly demonstrated how inconsolable they were over the loss of their loved ones.  If he could somehow help just one of them to find their child before any harm came to them, maybe it would go just a bit toward helping him deal with the incredible guilt he continued to carry around with him regarding the others he couldn’t save….He stood there facing Brian as he watched the man consider his request.  Would he dismiss the idea outright as foolish and ill-advised?

 

Justin’s suggestion was like a bolt out of the blue to Brian; he had already told him he couldn’t remember anything further or force visions to appear deliberately, so what good would it do?  Besides, this wasn’t some cop show on t.v. or some video game where you could mold the outcome strictly based on your skills and talent.  This was REAL…..and this was his son…..He didn’t have time to watch someone else’s back while he was trying frantically to find him.  “No,” he told Justin, observing the man’s face fall in disappointment.  “Too dangerous.” 

 

But Justin wasn’t going to allow the detective to rebuff him that easily.  “I want to go with you,” he repeated more firmly. 

 

Brian huffed in impatience, every second like a grain of sand disappearing through an hourglass.  “I don’t have time for this, Justin.  You said you told me everything you knew.  What would be the point?”

 

Justin walked toward Brian until he was within a few feet of him.  “I don’t know,” he admitted honestly.  “But I have to try, Brian.  I couldn’t help those other boys – maybe there’s still time to help your son.  Isn’t that worth the chance?  I don’t care about my safety.  I’ll take responsibility for myself; let me come with you.” 

 

Brian studied the beautiful, resolute face and decided Justin was right – there was no time to argue proper police technique or protocol.  Maybe somehow he could help him; his son’s life was in the balance. 

 

“Okay,” he agreed at last as he opened the door.  “Let’s go.” 

 

Justin let out a nervous breath as he turned to look at Daphne’s door, which was still closed; his friend had apparently been so tired from the day’s events, she had slept through their entire encounter.  Sensing that Brian wouldn’t want to waste any more time, he hurriedly asked, “Let me just leave Daphne a short note so she knows I’m okay.”  He hurried over to one of his sketchpads and tore out a sheet, scribbling a short message that he ‘had to go out’ and would be back later, not wanting to alarm her.  He knew if Daphne knew the real reason why he was gone, she would panic and truthfully, he was a little scared himself; but he had to go if there was any chance he could help.  Leaving it on the side table next to the couch, he hurried to join Brian as the brunet opened the door and rushed out. 

 

 

The silence in Brian’s car was deafening as the brunet wound his way aimlessly through the streets of Pittsburgh, both men seemingly lost in their own thoughts.  He had decided to once more start at Gus’ school and conduct his own grid pattern, slowly expanding his search area by driving in increasingly larger squares.  Fortunately, the streets near the school were laid out in intersecting patterns which made his search as precise and methodical as it could be.  And except for patches of woods here and there, the neighborhood surrounding the school consisted of mainly residential streets filled with mature shade trees and well-kept, older homes. 

 

The highway patrol had already conducted an extensive, house-by-house search and investigation of several miles within the school immediately after Gus’ disappearance; unfortunately, no one had observed anything unusual near the time Gus had been abducted, and the perimeter directly surrounding the school’s property was owned by the school board itself and consisted of several acres of grassland.  As a result, the nearest residence was more than a mile away from the playground.  It seemed the killer had taken steps to make sure he had the perfect circumstances to snatch his child at the proper time, Brian thought with disgust. 

 

“Brian?”  The silence was broken as Justin called out to his driving companion; he had spent the past several minutes gazing out the sedan’s window at the quickly waning daylight, trying fervently somehow to channel his energy toward something, anything, that might be helpful in finding the other man’s son, but as of yet nothing had surfaced. 

 

The brunet turned to look at him.  “Yeah?” he said softly.  “You remembered something else?” he asked, unable to disguise the hopefulness in his voice.  His face fell, however, as Justin shook his head.

 

“No,” Justin told him softly, the regret heavy in his voice.  “But maybe if you tell me more about Gus, somehow it would help.”  He really didn’t know if that was the truth or not, but he thought that perhaps it might, and he oddly wanted to know more about this man’s son, maybe in an indirect attempt to get to know what made this man tick. 

 

He watched as Brian actually smiled slightly.  “He’s a great kid.  Loves sports and always on the go.  Loves pizza and hot dogs and anything Disney.”  His voice softened as he added, “He always wants me to read him a bedtime story before he goes to bed; even then, he always struggles to stay awake.”  His eyes filled with tears as he added, “I always have to get him a glass of milk and some Oreos before he finally agrees to go to sleep.”  He bit his lip in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the tears from escaping as they trickled down his cheek and he angrily wiped them away with his sleeve.  “And now I don’t know where he is – or, or what that fucking monster is doing to him.  He’s probably scared out of his mind, wondering why I’m not there….”   He gripped the steering wheel so hard, his fingernails bit into the flesh of his palm underneath.  He sniffled back some of the tears as he felt Justin’s hand on his shoulder, giving it a brief, comforting squeeze; somehow, though, that small degree of camaraderie just made the tears flow again even harder.

 

“There’s still time, Brian,” Justin told him softly.  “At least I feel that way.  I still think he’s alive.”  He wasn’t sure how certain he could be of that fact – he couldn’t actually see Gus in his mind’s eye – but he just had some sort of intuition that the killer hadn’t committed the final, irrevocable act yet; he was holding out for some reason.  He had no idea why he knew this, but somehow he did……

 

Brian swallowed hard; all the talk about Gus had just made his heart ache even worse.  What was his child going through right now?  Was Justin right – was he still alive?  If he was, was he awake and somehow restrained, unable to move and knowing that something horrible was about to happen but finding himself unable to resist?  Was he terrified at being in a strange place with someone he didn’t know?  Was he crying out for him or Melanie and Lindsey, wondering why no one was coming to find him?  “God,” he whispered as the fear of what might be happening to his son washed over him.  “Where are you, Gus?” he added, his voice barely audible as he asked the question to no one in particular.

 

Justin squeezed Brian’s shoulder once more before he dropped his hand onto the bench seat; as he did so, it brushed against the ball cap that Brian had laid on the seat between them and he felt a flash almost like electricity suddenly run through his body.  He pulled his hand back as if it had been burned as an unexpected image seared vividly into his mind.  For a few seconds, he saw an image of a farmhouse; worn, weather beaten and neglected looking.  There was a dirt driveway on the right side of the house, with a black pickup truck parked next to a cement walkway leading into the side entrance. 

 

He gasped softly as Brian looked over at him.  “What?” he asked, frowning as he noticed the odd look on Justin’s face.

 

Justin licked his lips, the tip of his tongue coming out to wet them as he studied what he had just envisioned.  He looked over at Brian, who was eyeing him curiously.  “I…..When I touched the cap, I saw something.”  He knew that sounded so hokey – this was not a black and white movie – but he still couldn’t dismiss what he had seen.  He had never had this type of revelation just by touching something and the idea astounded him.  But it had been so clear in his mind, so unexpected; it was unlike anything he had ever experienced before.

 

Brian’s heart began to pound as he immediately pulled the unmarked police car over to the side of the road and stopped; they were getting farther and farther away from Gus’ school as evidenced by more and more open space.  At this point there were more vacant lots than homes with no streetlights and very light traffic.  As soon as he put the car in park, he turned to stare into Justin’s face.  The blond wore an expression of deep concentration and puzzlement.  “What?  What did you see?” Brian pressed, barely able to control his curiosity.  “Was it my son?  Was it Gus?  Is he all right?  Tell me!”

 

Justin shook his head, immediately dashing Brian’s hopes.  “I….I didn’t see Gus,” he hastened to verify as Brian’s face fell.  “But I saw a farmhouse with a pickup truck outside.  I don’t know how, but I know it’s connected.” 

 

Brian’s pulse raced.  “Are you sure?” he asked urgently.

 

Justin nodded.  “I think so.  It feels right somehow.  He has to be involved.  If we could just find the place…..”

 

“What does it look like?” Brian urged him, hoping that somehow he might recognize the location from Justin’s description.  He had been born and raised in the Pitts and by virtue of his vocation, he was very familiar with much of the city; was it possible he would be able to pinpoint the house simply by Justin’s description? 

 

Justin closed his eyes, trying to focus in on every detail.  “It….it was a two-story, a Victorian I think it would be called.  It was wood on the outside, but gray and weather beaten with no shutters.  It hasn’t been taken very well care of.  There’s a dirt driveway on the right-hand side, with a truck – a black pickup truck – parked near an entrance to the side of the house.”   He opened his eyes to find Brian staring at him intently as one more piece of the puzzle fell into place.  “I saw a couple of ladders hanging out of the back of the bed…….and what looked like a roll of plastic sticking out next to them.”

 

Brian’s mouth went dry at these new details; apparently the man was a painter of some kind.  Looking at the intense expression of concentration on Justin’s face, any lasting doubts he had about the blond’s culpability in any of the crimes was wiped away; there could be no disguising the troubled look on his face.  “What?” Brian queried urgently.  “What is it?  Something else?”

 

Justin’s eyes clouded; a feeling of nausea overtook him and bile rose into his throat.  For the first time, he could feel the killer’s resolve and determination, his sickness, his depravity.  He had never experienced anything like it before with any of his visions, and he hoped he never would again.  Somehow……he knew; time was running out.  “Brian,” he whispered as he reached to grab his wrist and his voice broke with despair.  “We have to hurry – he’s…..he’s going to do something soon…..” 

 

“No,” Brian whispered in horror as his face paled.  He didn’t understand why he believed Justin knew, but somehow the horror on his face was too much to deny.  He sucked in a breath of helplessness.  “I….I don’t know where to look.  Help me,” he begged as he placed his other hand on tops of Justin’s, feeling the warmth underneath. 

 

Justin’s eyes teared over at the anguished look on Brian’s face.  “I…..I don’t know how,” he whispered.  “I can’t control this, Brian.”

 

Brian pursed his lips together tightly in frustration.  “But you just remembered something else.  Can’t you try some more?  Please, Justin…..this is my son’s life here.”  In desperation, he broke off his clasp of the blond’s hand to pick up his son’s cap.  “You seemed to remember something when you touched his cap,” he pointed out.  “Take it,” he pleaded.  “Please try.”  He held it out to Justin anxiously, his eyes boring into his companion’s.

 

Justin took a deep breath as he stared into Brian’s fearful eyes.  How could he resist trying, even though he had never accomplished something like that before?  But then again, he had never had a flash of foresight the way he had when he had accidently touched the ball cap the first time.  He nodded silently as he reached out and curled his fingers over the rough fabric.  To his shock, as his hand fitted itself around the bill of the cap, something akin to white streaks appeared in his head like flashes of lightning.  He closed his eyes tightly as his hand clenched around the cap even tighter; he gasped as an image of the farmhouse came unbidden to his mind again.  This time it was shrouded in pitch blackness; only the sliver of moonlight overhead illuminated any outline of the foreboding structure.  A lone light was shining in an upstairs window, a soft glow almost like a candle; the rest of the house was unlit and silent.  In his mind, he could hear the creaking sound of a rusty sign swinging back and forth in the wind near the beginning of the dirt-covered, pothole-ridden driveway.  The colorful graphics on the sign had long ago withered to a faint shell of the original image, but the shape’s outline could still be deciphered:  It was a rooster, its red comb on top long ago faded to a faint burnt orange color now.  Below the rooster were some words.  Justin held his breath, as if that would make the words appear more legible, keeping his eyes shut tightly.  Please….., he silently pleaded to whatever God was hearing……Please…..help me; help HIM…..

 

Finally, the words seemed to coalesce into sense:  Chanticleer Farm.   As soon as he realized what the words were, the vision seemed to quickly fade into nothingness.  He slowly opened his eyes to see Brian’s eyes boring into his, the brunet barely able to control himself.  “Brian,” he breathed out.  “I saw a sign…..at the farmhouse.”

 

Brian held his breath.  “A sign?  What kind of sign?”

 

“It was on a metal post near the street; it was swinging back and forth in the wind,” Justin continued in an excited voice, his eyes adopting a faraway look as he remembered it in his mind; he didn’t have his sketchbook so he was determined to remember ever little detail.   “It was rusty and looked really old, but I could make out the picture on it and what it said.  It was a rooster, and the sign said Chanticleer Farm.”   He looked into Brian’s eyes, noticing them widening in resolve.  “Have you heard of it?” he asked hopefully.

 

Brian’s heart began to pound this time; finally they might have something substantial to go on.  He shook his head to Justin’s disappointment as he flipped his phone open to call Horvath.  “Carl, it’s Brian.”

 

Horvath, who was in his own police car pretty much performing the same aimless function as Brian was doing, asked, “Where are you?”

 

“Listen, no time,” Brian said as he started the car.  “I’m with Justin.  He’s remembered something else, something important.”

 

Carl’s eyebrows shot up.  “You’re with Taylor?  Where?”  He was shocked to say the least.   “Are you interrogating him again, Kinney?  I thought I warned you about going against police pro….”

 

“No, no,” Brian cut him off impatiently as he looked over at Justin, who was listening enraptured to his conversation.  “It’s not like that – he’s with me voluntarily.  Listen, there isn’t time for this, Carl!  He thinks he can see where this fucker has my son!  He’s holed up in some old farmhouse by the name of Chanticleer Farms.  Ever heard of it?” he asked urgently; Carl had lived all his life in Pittsburgh and knew the city and its suburbs like the back of his hand even more than he did. 

 

“Hold on,” Carl replied as he slowed his car down and pulled to the side of the road.  Apart from the fact that he was still digesting the incredible news that Brian was apparently with Taylor and the blond was cooperating with him, he was trying hard to think why that name sounded so familiar.  He could hear Brian breathing anxiously on the other end of the phone.  “Let me think – hang on a second.”

 

Damn.  He knew that name from somewhere, but where?  His mind drifted to his and Debbie’s kitchen for some reason at the mention of the word ‘rooster;’ his wife was an avid collector of rooster memorabilia and the kitchen was smothered with all sorts of rooster knick knacks, rooster potholders, a rooster clock; even a rooster teapot, with the bird’s head and neck as the spout.  Why did this particular name ring a bell, though?

 

Suddenly, it came to him; when he was growing up, they had had their milk, butter and eggs delivered to their door by a panel truck; the eggs that were delivered had been nestled inside a cardboard egg carton with a red rooster on the front and the name Chanticleer DairyFarm Fresh emblazoned on it. 

 

“Carl?” he heard Brian urgently calling him as he came back to the present. 

 

“Just a second, Kinney,” he told his detective a little too gruffly as he strove to remember the address of the farm that was written on the carton.  It was one of those RFD addresses, a quaint, rural custom of assigning addresses when Pittsburgh was much more bucolic in nature.  He closed his eyes, imagining the egg carton resting inside the metal delivery crate positioned next to their backdoor.  He mentally took the carton out of the box, noticing the rooster picture on top of the lid with the farm’s name.  Finally, it came to him:  RFD 8, Pittsburgh, PA. 

 

“I remember it!” he cried out to Brian over the phone as he quickly put the car into drive; the tires screeched as he accelerated the car.  “It’s out on Highway 8 – toward the southern end, near Wilkinsburg!  Where are you?”

 

“I’m about four miles east from the school,” Brian reported as he, too, rammed the car into drive and gunned the engine; Justin grasped the dashboard as he almost came out of his seat from the effect.  “I’ll meet you there,” Brian told him as he quickly flipped the phone shut, instinctively knowing that Carl would call for backup as he hurried to meet him there; he wasn’t about to hear his superior, though, tell him to wait to do anything – that was not an option where his son’s life was concerned.  He was approximately five miles away from Route 8 as he flipped on the flashing light on top of his car and pressed his foot down on the accelerator. 

 

“He knew where it was?” Justin asked him breathlessly as Brian nodded; his own heart was beating rapidly at the thought that maybe, just maybe they could get there in time.

 

“Yeah,” Brian verified, his voice rising in volume as he deftly dodged the few cars he was encountering; Justin covered his eyes briefly and his heart almost stopped as they barely missed a vehicle in the next intersection, traveling through on a green light but not noticing the unmarked police car speeding through until the very last moment.  “Out on Highway 8, near Wilkinsburg.”

 

Justin’s mouth felt dry as cotton at this revelation.  “How long to get there?” he asked softly; he could feel the uneasiness in the pit of his stomach like a leaden balloon and the ever-present nausea threatening to overtake him…..

 

“About 10 minutes,” Brian told him curtly, his eyes unwavering from the street in front of him.  The sun had quickly set behind the faraway, rolling hills several minutes ago, casting the area in ever-increasing darkness.

 

Justin knew – if they got there after the house was enveloped in total blackness, it would be too late for Brian’s son.  “Hurry, Brian,” he choked out.  “Hurry.”

Chapter Text

Brian’s hands were practically plastered with sweat to the black leather steering wheel of his police car as he drove like a madman toward Highway 8; he estimated at his present rate of speed – somewhere precariously between 70 and 80 mph along a back road on the outskirts of Pittsburgh – he would get to the actual highway they needed in about three minutes.  He had no idea from there how much longer it would take to get to the actual farmhouse, though, where he son was being kept; hell, he really didn’t have an exact address, so he would have to slow down to scan each residence as he and Justin passed by, which would delay him even further.   From what Justin had sensed, that was a luxury he – and his son – could ill afford.

 

He sighed heavily in nervous tension as he glanced over at his passenger; he was trying hard to keep his breathing steady, but his nerves were frayed to the edge and his heart was pounding in anxiety over his son.  Justin was still clutching the baseball cap tightly in his right hand and he was biting his lower lip; his eyes were closed in concentration, apparently while he tried to envision something else that might help them find Gus’s whereabouts.  “Anything more?” Brian asked him urgently, not wanting to interrupt his train of thought but anxious to know if he had “seen” anything additional. 

 

Justin slowly opened his eyes and blinked as if he were trying to get his whereabouts before he turned his head to stare into Brian’s eyes; the detective could see regret etched on the beautiful, worry-lined face as he shook his head sorrowfully.  “No,” Justin whispered.  “I tried…But I’m not getting anything else.”  Actually he had been surprised that he had been able to conjure up any additional details at all simply by grasping Gus’s baseball cap in his hands.  He had never been able to do that before, but then again, this had been the first time he had actually held something that had belonged to the victims.  Before, when eerie occurrences had happened to his friends or family over the years, he had never thought to do that; he thought it was so much rubbish only reserved for “B” movies.  In a way, he was almost glad no one had asked him to try it before, because the emotions that he was feeling could only be coming from the killer himself and it was almost too much to handle.  His stomach was tied up in knots and he tasted the acidic tang of bile in his throat as he felt the other man’s hatred and loathing.   Oddly enough, he didn’t really think the man’s negative energy was being directed toward Brian’s son, though; it felt more like it was aimed at someone else.  The only thing he lamented about being able to sense these emotions and see additional visions in his mind as he had held onto the cap was that if he had tried this before, perhaps he could have saved some of the other children as well.  He would regret that for the rest of his life.

 

He corrected himself; they hadn’t saved Gus yet, either; and he knew – somehow, he knew – that if they didn’t get there very soon, the killer would extinguish yet another young, innocent life:  the life of the child whose father was presently sitting to his left behind the driver’s seat, his face set with both determination as well as great fear.  Justin breathed out a worrisome sigh as Brian’s face mirrored some of the same emotions he was presently feeling - disappointment and great concern over a little boy somewhere nearby and in mortal danger.  Brian nodded at him once curtly before turning his attention back to the road, trying to concentrate on their frantic journey toward the killer’s hideout.  Justin was actually a little frightened at the rate in which Brian was driving – thankfully, the road they were on was a little-used, two-lane highway that had been pushed aside in favor of the interstate that had been built several years ago, so it wasn’t very crowded presently.  But the winding road was unforgiving in its narrowness, with no shoulders on either side to allow for any variation from their path.  Justin merely prayed that Brian would continue to be able to keep his attention on the road, despite his son undoubtedly being uppermost in his mind. 

 

He broke the somewhat tense silence by asking softly, “How long a road is Highway 8?”  He wanted to know how likely it would be that they could reach Brian’s son before darkness overcame them, and with it, any hope of rescuing him. 

 

Brian stared at the highway as he answered, his mind concentrated on his ultimate target – finding Gus.  “It was the original highway that went north and south before they put in I-76,” he told Justin matter-of-factly.  “It actually runs from one part of the state to the other, so it’s pretty long.  But within the city limits I’d say it’s about eight or ten miles all together – which is about 9 miles too long for me.”  He glanced over quickly at Justin.  “You have any idea at all where this farmhouse is located?  On the right or the left?  What about the driveway?  How long is it?  Can you see the house from the street?”  Brian knew he would need every advantage he could get to find out where his son was before...He couldn’t even say the words, he wouldn’t go there.

 

Justin shook his head sadly.  “No, I’ve tried.  But I haven’t seen anything more; just the house and the sign – and the pickup truck.  I couldn’t tell how far the house was from the main road, either.  I’m sorry.” 

 

Brian shook his head as they drove on through the quickly-darkening night.  “No time for polite apologies,” he said tersely.  “I need to concentrate on Gus.”  He squinted at a green, metallic road sign they were approaching.  “There’s the cutout for Highway 8,” he told Justin, nodding his head toward the right.  “Here we go.”

 

The sudden ringing of his cell phone startled both men as Brian locked an apprehensive gaze on Justin before he reached down on the seat to snatch it up and flip it open.  “Yeah,” he answered curtly, not affording himself any luxury to even notice who it was first.

 

“It’s Horvath,” Carl told him tersely.  “Where are you?”

 

“Almost up to Highway 8,” Brian told him.  “Back up?”

 

“On its way,” his sergeant told him in a clipped tone.  “And I’m right behind you.”

 

“You have any idea at all where this old farmhouse is, Sarge?  You told me you were familiar with the old dairy that used to be there.”  Brian was hoping that perhaps his superior might actually know the physical location as well as the name.

 

To his extreme disappointment, however, Carl told him, “No, sorry… I wish I did.  I’m afraid you’re going to have to rely on eyesight to find it.  You know it’s going to be dark soon.” 

 

Brian swallowed hard.  Yes, he was well aware of that, and what it meant:  not only would it be a hell of a lot harder to actually spot the farmhouse in the waning daylight that was remaining, it also meant, at least according to Justin and the killer’s normal m.o., that his son was quickly running out of time.  “Yeah,” he said brusquely as he turned to look at Justin, whose eyes were peering back at him intently as if he could hear every word that was being said – perhaps he could.  “I know exactly what that means.  I’ll be watching for you – got to go,” Brian told his boss as he quickly closed his phone.  He placed his eyes back on the road, intent on not missing the turnoff for Highway 8, as he blindly placed the cell phone back down on the seat; he felt a slight jolt as his hand brushed up against Justin’s and he glanced quickly over at his passenger.

 

“What about his moms?” Justin asked him quietly. 

 

Brian returned his gaze to the road.  “What about them?” he asked curtly.

 

“You think they should know what’s going on?”

 

Brian shook his head adamantly.  “No,” he told Justin.  “No point – there’s no fucking way I would want them here right now; it’s much too dangerous.  And if… if something happens…”  He couldn’t finish the thought; he wouldn’t let that happen, not to his son.  Mel and Lindsey might never forgive him if something did happen to Gus and they weren’t there to somehow comfort their son, but he couldn’t take the chance that they would somehow get in the way.  Nothing could jeopardize his plan to rescue his son, and if that meant incurring their wrath later for his decision, so be it…

 

He felt Justin’s hand squeezing his upper arm briefly in response before he dropped his hand onto the seat.  “You’ll get there in time,” he told him reassuringly – at least he hoped so.

 

“You can tell that?” Brian asked him quickly, unable to keep the hope from his voice.  Was it possible Justin had been able to foretell that, also?  He didn’t stop to think how ironic it was that all of a sudden he was being forced to rely on a ‘gift’ he had previously scoffed at.

 

“No,” Justin told him honestly, wincing slightly at the dashed look on Brian’s face.  “I just have confidence that you will, that’s all.”

 

Disappointed, Brian nodded as he glanced over at his companion for a moment.  This blond was sure a strange one, he couldn’t help thinking.  He had been certain he had the man pegged from the moment he had first seen him.  He thought for sure he was some opportunistic attention-seeker that was playing his ‘unique’ gift for all it was worth.  That he was using the one talent he actually did have – his art – to be in the spotlight.  He had seen all sorts of them during the years he had been a detective, people who had to have the attention generated by sensational acts of depravity and greed.  He felt his analytical skills were excellent, and they had been put to the test with this one – and he was beginning to realize he had failed miserably.

 

He was convinced now that this multi-faceted and yes, beautiful man couldn’t have had anything to do with Gus’s abduction.  It just didn’t fit; no one could be that good of an actor.  He could almost feel Justin’s pain when he had zoned out earlier and thought of the farmhouse and the sign, although he still had no real idea how he did it.  But the place apparently did exist; his sergeant knew about it.  Fuck, it had to exist – it was going to literally be the difference between life and death for his son.  And even though he didn’t profess to having a visionary bone in his body, somehow he knew Justin was right – if they didn’t get there soon – very soon – his son was as good as dead. 

 

He looked over again at Justin, who must have thought he was staring at him too intently because after a brief time the blond looked away almost in embarrassment toward the window.  “Will you know where this place is when we see it?” he asked Justin, who turned his head back to look at him at the sound of Brian’s voice.

 

“I… I don’t know,” he answered honestly.  “I think so.  I’ve never done anything like this before, though, but it stands out so much in my mind for some reason.  I keep seeing that sign, blowing back and forth in the wind, even though it’s not even windy out right now.”  Did that mean he was wrong about the killer’s hideout, too?  Was this all just some sort of wishful thinking on his part?  Was it possible that all this was some elaborate daydream instead of reality?  He shook his head in reproach as Brian turned his attention back to the road and veered the car toward the right to merge onto Highway 8.  “Fuck…what if I’m wrong, Brian?”

 

“You picked a hell of a time to doubt yourself now,” Brian growled as he kept his eyes on the road; to his dismay, he could see the sun beginning to set over the horizon – this time of year it didn’t take much time for the sun to go down completely once that happened, bathing the sky in dimness.  He glanced over at Justin once more and noticed the doubt surfacing on his face.  “Don’t you do that,” he warned, knowing if he was going to stay strong for his son it was somehow important that Justin do the same.  “My sergeant confirmed this place actually exists, remember?  So you didn’t just make it up.”  He paused briefly before admitting, “However you’re doing this channeling stuff, Taylor, I need you to keep your mind focused on my son, do you hear me?” 

 

Justin swallowed, trying to keep his mouth from drying out as he silently nodded.  He didn’t want to mention to Brian that it wasn’t really his son he was “channeling” – it was the killer.  He could somehow feel the man’s thoughts and emotions and they were getting stronger; more violent, more fragmented, more irrational, and he could feel the nausea roiling in his stomach like an angry wave.  He shivered at the sensation. 

 

“Justin?” Brian glanced over at the blond who appeared to be shaking.  Was he upset at his tone of voice or something?  He hadn’t been that harsh with him.  In either case, he didn’t have time at the moment to be sensitive to the other man’s feelings, though – there was something much more vital at stake.  “Did you hear me?  I need your help here; my SON needs your help.”

 

“Yeah,” Justin replied in a hoarse whisper as he took another swallow.  “I… I heard you.  I’m trying.  It’s just…”

 

“What?” Brian pressed.

 

“I, I can feel him, Brian – not Gus; the man who has your son.  He’s not rational, he… He somehow thinks what he’s doing is helping someone.”

 

“Shit!” Brian snarled, his eyes flashing in quiet fury.  “When I get a hold of that monster, I’ll be glad to help him – right to his fucking GRAVE!”  His hands gripped the steering wheel even harder as he imagined he had his hands around the other man’s neck.  A quick and easy break to the man’s neck bones would be a kindness to him, however  – he had a much more excruciating method in mind, starting with his eyes popping out of his head, although strangling him would be poetic justice in light of how he killed all those boys.  He shut his eyes for a second, forcing himself to push the thought of his own son winding up that way.  He would NOT let that happen…

 

“Start looking for the farmhouse,” he told Justin.  “You take the right and I’ll look on the left.”  He silently prayed that the light would hold out; it was quickly getting darker and darker now that the sun was completely behind the gently rolling hills.  The landscape had taken on that odd coloration of twilight, almost like some sepia-colored, old movie – the period between bright, vibrant sunlight and the blackness of night.  The only consolation to him was that there would be a partial moon tonight – but something told him by that time it wouldn’t matter…

 

Justin nodded as he peered intently out the window, watching as acres of farmland passed them by teeming with corn and soybean fields.  Even though they were just outside the city limits, here time seemed to have stood still; swatches of woods spread out in waving blankets of green and brown here and there, serving as much-needed shade for the occasional herds of cows he saw, and the houses he did see were separated by large parcels of land.  He remembered visiting his grandfather’s farm back when he was a lot younger in eastern New York; he used to be fascinated by how there always seemed to be just enough of a little patch of open field between groups of hardwood trees so a tractor could navigate between them to get to the next field.  At the moment, he fervently hoped that the place they were looking for wasn’t hidden behind one of the groups of maples and oaks dotting the fields on either side of the highway.  He knew a lot of farmhouses were situated far back from the road along gravel drives, much like the driveway he had seen in his mind.  Please don’t let it be like that, he thought as Brian slowed the car down considerably so they wouldn’t miss anything.

 

“Keep your eyes peeled,” he said in dead seriousness, still, he was unable to roll his eyes a little at his silly-sounding, stereotypical Dick-Tracy-like statement as Justin nodded in acknowledgment, his eyes craned on his side of the road. 

 

The darkness was quickly encroaching now as the two men concentrated on examining each building they passed; one mile, then two, then three…..but there was nothing; nothing but mile after mile of crops, livestock, occasional long-ago abandoned farmhouses and barns dotted from time to time with an actual occupied structure as evidenced by the well-kept lawns, mainly white, two-story rectangular –shaped, wooden homes with black shutters and tall pillars ringing the front cement porches from a time long ago.. 

 

Brian broke the tense silence finally by asking, “Are you sure of what you saw?  Was the farmhouse like one of these instead? Almost every fucking one of them looks the same to me.  How are we going to find the right one?”  If it was one of them, the only hope they had was that there would be the man’s black pickup truck parked outside like Justin had said.  Hell, he wasn’t a hundred percent sure Justin even knew what he was talking about, but it was the only hope they had now.

 

“I’m sure,” Justin told him softly but firmly.  He reached inside his mind to recall what he had seen – a weather-worn, almost gray two story farmhouse, neglected and forlorn-looking now.  The intricate, almost gingerbread-like scroll work along the home’s gutters and at the corners had shown evidence that at one time it would have been considered a quite grand residence, befitting the home of a prominent dairy farmer in town.  And perhaps at one time it had been white; probably it had been.  But now?  Now it was more of a gray color, the last vestiges of paint slowly peeling off and curling in the daytime sun. 

 

Brian nodded silently, hoping to God that Justin was right.  He sighed heavily.  “Well, we’ve only got about four more miles until it makes a sharp right and heads toward Wilkinsburg.  But you think he’s before we get there?” 

 

Justin held his breath as he reached inside himself for the answer.  Somehow, someway, he knew.  “Yes, I do,” he whispered.  “He’s near here, Brian; I can almost feel him.  We’re close.”  He kept his eyes toward the window as the same type terrain went by – fields, trees, gravel drives, an occasional home with lights on inside, indicating occupation.  It was getting darker and darker, though, and soon they wouldn’t be able to see anything more than what was illuminated by the headlights of their car or the small sliver of moonlight that would soon be appearing.

 

Again, the ringing of Brian’s cell phone made both men jump as Brian hurried to pick it up.  “Kinney.”

 

“Anything?”

 

“No,” Brian told his sergeant bluntly.  “Not a fucking thing yet.  Did you have someone run the name of this dairy through the search records?  Maybe it’s still registered with an address.”

 

“No,” Carl told him regretfully.  “I mean, I did have one of the boys check it out.  It’s been out of business for years now, and even if it were in the records, back then the only address the post office had for it was an RFD number referring to the highway – in those days, they didn’t even have street numbers assigned for mail delivery.”

 

“That’s fucking great,” Brian groused as his eyes squinted to try and make out each building they were passing; he had to slow down more to make sure he didn’t miss a gravel driveway or the sign that Justin had mentioned, and the black pickup truck, even if it was parked outside, would be almost impossible to see now.  “Where are you and the other guys?  I need backup here, Carl.”

 

“Almost there – I’m going to have some of them start going door to door; maybe one of the old timers at least will remember the dairy and where it was located.  The rest will crisscross the highway, trying to find the farmhouse that Justin mentioned.”  The sergeant was quiet for a couple of seconds before he asked, “You really think he knows what he’s talking about, Kinney?  You realize this is a real long shot.”

 

“Yeah,” Brian answered tersely.  “Strangely I do.  Besides, it’s the only lead we have at the moment.” 

 

“Yeah, you’re right,” Carl reluctantly agreed.  “Okay – I’ll be in touch and should be there within a few minutes.  Let me know if you spot anything in the meantime.”

 

Brian flipped the phone shut without further ado, again placing it down without taking his eyes off the side of the road.  “Damn it,” he muttered in frustration.  “This place has to be here somewhere.”  He noticed ahead the cutoff sign for Wilkinsburg and slowed down to almost a stop as Justin looked over at him.  “I hope you’re right about this feeling you have, whatever it is,” he told Justin, “because I’m going to turn around and go back toward town.” 

 

Justin licked his lips nervously and let out a tense breath, the feeling in his gut growing stronger and more uneasy with each roll of the car’s wheels.  “Yeah, so do I,” he admitted softly, urgency in his voice.  “But somehow I just know, Brian – he’s here.  He’s right here… He’s got to be almost right under our noses!” 

 

As Brian made a U-turn in the deserted road and began to retrace their previous steps, he noticed the moon creeping slowly upward; at least there would be a sliver of moonlight to accompany their return journey, although he also noticed the moon was partly obstructed by clouds indicating an approaching storm.  Without any streetlights to guide them, the only other source of light would be their car’s headlights and the occasional glow from either inside a residence or from one of those security lights that always seemed to be posted to the top of a barn out back.  It would provide only limited illumination, though, at best. 

 

Brian felt his hopes diminishing with each passing mile as he kept a desperate eye on each driveway they passed, each barn, and each now-darkened home.  But there was nothing… Nothing to indicate his son was being held inside any of them.  How… How would he find him now?  Suddenly, he heard Justin gasp beside him.

 

“Stop!  Slow down!” he cried out, clapping one hand over his mouth as a wave of nausea washed over him.  He shuddered as a vision appeared to him and he could almost feel the man’s bulky, hairy, grease-covered hands carrying what appeared to be clothing as he walked down a dimly-lit, scuff-laden, hardwood floor.  “Stop the car!” he demanded urgently. 

 

Brian’s heart began to pound furiously as his foot slammed down on the brake pedal; if not for their seatbelts, both men would have been thrown against the dashboard or steering wheel as Brian did as Justin asked and stopped the car on a dime as the tires squealed in protest.  He turned to Justin, his face shadowed eerily in neon green from the dashboard controls.  “What?  What do you see?”

 

“It’s here, Brian!  I can feel him!  It’s got to be right here!”  He began to look around frantically but all he could see was the side of the road.  “Where is it?” He cried out as he craned his neck.  The house had to be here – it had to be… He turned his gaze back to Brian, his breathing rapid and shallow.  “A flashlight!  You’ve got to have a flashlight in here somewhere!”

 

Brian nodded as he reached behind his seat to pull out a long, dark-green metal flashlight from a mesh tote attached to the back.  “I’ve got one right here,” he said.  He hesitated for a second before he reached to open the door; noticing Justin about to get out, he gripped his arm.  “Stay in the car,” he ordered as Justin sighed in irritation; nevertheless, he did as he was told as Brian emerged from the vehicle alone.

 

The air had gotten dramatically cooler since the sun had gone down and the countryside was still and eerily quiet, belying the desperation bubbling up inside of him.  He swung the flashlight around in an arc near his side of the vehicle, but couldn’t see anything except for grass and the ditch curving away from the road that was littered with cans, bottles, and fast-food wrappers.  Walking around the back of the car, he moved the flashlight back and forth like a pendulum, sweeping the beam of light over the nearby ground.  He huffed out an angry breath as he heard Justin’s car door opening and the blond emerging from the vehicle.

 

“I thought I told you to stay in the car, Taylor,” he told his companion.  “Besides, your radar must be faulty; I don’t see anything here.”  In mounting frustration and extreme worry, he brushed a hand through his hair roughly before he sighed heavily.  “This is a fucking wild goose chase!  Why did I listen to you?  My son could be dying right now and we’re out in the middle of fucking nowhere!  You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, do you?”  Suddenly, the thought that his son would not be found in time made him feel like a fool as the emotional pain flared up inside him.  “We’re wasting precious time here!”  He lifted his gaze upward into the night sky that was now punctuated with twinkling stars and a sliver of the moon.  “Gus!” he cried out in anguish.  “Where are you?”

 

Justin, however, knew there was no time to debate Brian; at that moment, he didn’t care if Brian was doubting him again or not.  “Give me the flashlight,” he demanded quietly as he held his hand out toward the older man.  “Give it to me!” he repeated as Brian stood there like a frozen statue.

 

Brian’s gaze lowered to the slender man standing there next to him.  He swallowed the lump in his throat and tried hard to quell the thoughts of exactly what was happening to his son as he met Justin’s gaze evenly; in the darkness he could see the blue eyes reflecting off his flashlight’s beam as he wordlessly handed it to him.  Why, he wasn’t sure, but something in Justin’s voice pushed him to do it anyway. 

 

Justin took the flashlight firmly in his hand; biting his lip in thought, he began to swing it left and right in a searching pattern, his footsteps slowly echoing in the nighttime stillness as he walked alongside the roadway; not quite sure what he was even searching for but somehow knowing they would find the answer they were seeking somewhere nearby.  The lack of sounds typically heard when living near others cast a spooky presence around him as he continued to sweep his gaze around the area, feeling dread beginning to settle in the pit of his stomach if he didn’t find something soon.  The answer had to be here – it just had to be…..but what? 

 

Brian watched the shadowy form of his companion as he walked alongside the road’s shoulder; he could hardly make out anything on the side of the road now with the darkness firmly in place.  “What?” he asked restlessly.  “What do you see?  There’s nothing here!”  He huffed out an angry, frustrated breath.  All this time – all this fucking time wasted on a stupid dream; and to think he was beginning to believe Justin really could see these things…

 

“Over here!” he heard Justin exclaim excitedly as he rushed over to his side to see what the beam of light was focused on.  He stopped in his tracks as he looked over to the side of the road to see a rust-covered metal pole with a sign that was swinging gently back and forth in the slight breeze that had been produced from the impending storm – a sign with a washed-out picture of a rooster on it and faint letter spelling out the name of the residence:  Chanticleer Farms.  The creaking of the sign’s movement was soft but still audible as he took hold of Justin’s wrist gripping the flashlight and moved it slightly to the side to notice a weed-covered, gravel driveway that they had previously missed; apparently years of neglect had almost completely obliterated it from casual view.  “Holy shit,” he said under his breath, his heart beginning to pound.  He grabbed Justin’s arm and began to pull him toward the car.  “Get in the car!” he demanded urgently as he dropped Justin’s arm and they began to sprint madly toward his vehicle.  Justin barely had time to get in and close the door before Brian rammed his foot down on the accelerator pedal and, shifting the car into gear, quickly made a U-turn in the middle of the road and aimed toward the hidden driveway.  He debated whether to keep the headlights on, not wanting to alert anyone to their presence, before he quickly flipped them off, only leaving the parking lights on.  Slowly he crept down the narrow, gravel driveway, hoping to God that whoever was around wouldn’t notice their presence.  “Justin,” he whispered as he glanced at his companion.  “Can you see anything?  Feel anything?” he asked, not even stopping to think about how he had turned from total skeptic one minute to true believer the next. 

 

Justin reached over on the seat to take Gus’s ball cap in his hands and closed his eyes.  Please… Help me, he asked to no one in particular.  He still had no idea where he had acquired this awful, unwelcome gift from, but maybe, just maybe, it could finally be used for some good.  Please…Help me.  At first there was nothing – just blackness and blankness.  After a few seconds, though, as if a fog or smoke was clearing in his mind, he could see the man again.  This time he could see the killer clearly:  He was of average height but burly, with big, bulky hands.  His fingernails were dirty and chipped; his hands stained with what appeared to be paint and/or grease.  The almost bright, cheery-looking fabric he cradled in his hands out in front of him as he walked was in stark contrast to the dark brown, smudged and paint-stained work jumpsuit he was wearing.  His dark hair was unkempt and straight, coming to rest at the nape of his neck.  If was as if he were walking alongside the man as he watched him come to a door at the end of the hallway and open it; he could even see the antique, crystal doorknob as the other man grasped it and turned the fixture to open the door.

 

“I… I can see him, Brian,” he whispered in horrible wonder, his eyes still closed.  “He’s… He’s walking down a hallway and entering a room at the end.  He’s got some kind of clothing in his hands – bright green with what looks like brown dinosaurs on it.”  He heard Brian gasp next to him, but did not open his eyes, afraid the moment would be lost.  He knew this might be the difference between life and death for the detective’s son so he kept going, praying that the vision wouldn’t disappear like they often did.  “I… I can see him taking the bundle in his hands over to some type of wooden trunk.  It’s some type of clothing… He’s, he’s opening the lid and putting the clothing in it.”  Justin’s heart stopped.  “There’re all kinds of clothes in there,” he said in shock.  He licked his lips in concentration as his mind tried to comprehend what he was seeing.  “They’re… They’re pajamas, I think!  All folded up neatly in the trunk.” 

 

Brian swallowed hard and clenched his jaw; he had instantly recognized what Justin had been describing – the green fabric with dinosaurs on them.  They were a pair of pajamas he had given his son last Christmas.  His blood boiled at the thought of what that man was doing to him, but he forced the bile down to concentrate on saving his son instead; there would be time later to see that this man got what he so deserved.   He took a deep breath to try and slow his pulse down before he pressed, “What else, Justin?”  He asked the question he was almost dreading to ask.  “Do you see my son?  Is he… Is he…?”  He couldn’t complete the sentence but he knew Justin would know what he was asking nonetheless.

 

Justin’s mouth hung open as he breathed softly in and out, his eyes still tightly shut as he clutched at the cap.  In his mind, he was walking away from the killer now, back down the hallway toward another room at the other end.  As he mentally walked up to the doorway, he peered in and saw a dark-haired little boy lying on a sunny-yellow bedspread festooned with green John Deere tractors.  He crept closer and closer until he could see the rhythmic, soft, shallow breathing of the tiny chest.  “He’s… He’s still alive, Brian,” Justin said breathlessly as the vision began to disappear again and he opened his eyes.  He turned to stare at Brian’s face; in the dimness he could still make out the faint tracks of tears on his cheeks.  “He’s still alive,” he assured him softly as Brian silently nodded, the lump in his throat preventing him from speaking.

 

Taking a deep breath, Brian slowly crept the car up the driveway, the sound of the gravel crunching underneath; he prayed that wherever the man had his son, he wouldn’t be able to hear the tires slowly moving closer and closer…

 

The driveway seemed to go on forever in the blackness; with the parking lights, only a few feet to either side of the car could be seen as silently the two men waiting to see something, anything, that might indicate where Brian’s son was.  As the detective rounded a slight curve to the left, however, finally they could both make out in the overhead moonlight a tall, foreboding two-story farmhouse rising into the sky; one lone light of some sort glowed upstairs like a beacon from a lighthouse as the car slowly continued closer and closer.  Finally, a vehicle came into view directly ahead:  a dark-colored pickup truck.  The car’s lights sufficiently illuminated the empty vehicle directly in front of them so they could make out two metal ladders and a roll of plastic hanging out of the truck’s bed as Brian brought the car to a stop and turned the lights completely off.  Now, only the sliver of moonlight, periodically hidden behind the quickly-scurrying clouds, could be used for any sort of illumination; that, and the lone flashlight still held in Brian’s hand. 

 

Brian’s heart began to pound, knowing he was close to his son.  He once more fervently prayed that Justin was right – that his son was in there and still alive.  He didn’t have any time to waste, though; each second was vital to his rescue.  Reaching down to remove his gun from its holster, he opened the driver’s side door, mentally kicking himself as the overhead light came on; he had forgotten about that.  Hoping that the man wasn’t looking outside at the moment, he quickly got out and closed the door quietly, leaning into the partially-opened window to talk to his passenger.  “Stay in the car and close the windows all the way up, Justin,” he told his companion tersely.  “And turn off the overhead light. I mean it this time.  This is extremely dangerous.”

 

Justin’s eyes widened in concern as he looked at the gun in Brian’s hand; he realized this wasn’t some cop show – this was real.  “Horvath…”

 

“No fucking time,” Brian told him flatly.  He nodded toward his phone just before he took off.  “His personal number’s on my speed dial; call him – try to describe to him where we’re at.  But under NO circumstances are you to leave this car, understood?  And lock the doors – NOW.”  He waited a couple of seconds but there was no answer.  “Justin?  Give me your word; I have to GO.”

 

“Yes, yes,” Justin answered hastily as he scrambled to find the phone.  “I’ll stay here.  But Brian,” he added, his voice full of worry, “Please be careful.  He’s crazy – he’s not sane.”

 

“You’re right about that,” Brian agreed; he tried to look Justin in the eyes but all he could see was a dim shadow of him.  “And he’s going to be dead when I get done with him.”  Wanting to say more to this man who was such an enigma but knowing there was no time, he quickly turned and disappeared into the night as Justin strained to look out the car to see him, his heart in his throat over what was about to happen.  For once, he prayed he couldn’t see any more visions, wondering if he perhaps didn’t want to know what was about to happen as he found himself alone in the car.

 

 

Inside the Farmhouse

 

Thomas Carruthers slowly closed the lid of the antique, humpback trunk after placing the latest boy’s clothing carefully inside.  He only had one more child to go now; he would take care of that as soon as he sent this latest one off to heaven to play with his son.  That was the part he really disliked; he wished that the chloroform would do the trick by putting the child into a perpetual deep sleep from which they never awakened.  He hated having to finish ending their lives.  But it was necessary to send them on their journey, and he figured it was much less painful and cleaner if he simply used his hands to perform the deed.  He couldn’t bear marring them with gunshots or stab wounds; besides, it was all so messy.  After giving each child new pajamas, the thought of soiling them was quite unpleasant. 

 

He slowly turned to walk back down the hallway, noticing the night had turned black now; it would protect him from what he was about to do.  Sighing in resignation, he turned to pause at the doorway.  He’s coming, Tommy.  He’s coming, Son…

 

 

Same Time…

 

Justin’s heart was pounding in his chest as he clutched his stomach with one hand and the phone with his other as another wave of nausea hit him.  He hadn’t been able to ‘see’ anything else since he had told Brian about the man walking down the hallway with the clothing, so he had no way of knowing what he was doing presently.  But the sickening feeling in his stomach told him he was about to finish his task; they were out of time, unless Brian managed to get to his son before the man could finish what he felt he had to do.  Justin could tell that was the way he felt, too; he could feel the man’s mixed emotions – a contradictory mixture of hatred, loathing, and scorn warring with much more positive feelings of regret, sadness, and even love; for what or whom, he couldn’t tell.  He didn’t understand any of it, except he could feel the man’s determination coming through loud and clear – determination to finish his job. 

 

Straining to make out Brian’s shadowy figure slowly creeping toward the house, he could just barely keep track of him by the sliver of moonlight above and the low illumination of either some sort of lamp or candle in the upstairs window; he watched as the moon caught just the glint of metal from the detective’s gun.  Brian was nearing the back of the house now, that much he could tell.  How would he even get in? Justin wondered.  He knew the man would find a way, though; he would have walked through fire to get to his son.

 

He quickly flipped Brian’s phone open, taking a little comfort in the blue glow from the desktop of the detective’s phone.  He hurriedly accessed the menu and located Horvath’s number, punching the button to activate the call.  The sergeant answered before the first ring was fully engaged.  “Kinney – you found something?” an urgent, gruff voice asked.

 

“No, Sergeant – It’s Justin Taylor.  Brian told me to call you.  We think we’ve found the farmhouse where the man has his son,” Justin gushed out.

 

“Where?” Horvath demanded.  “And where’s Kinney?”  Somehow, though, before Justin answered he knew exactly where his unorthodox, impetuous detective was and it scared the hell out of him.  “He went in alone, didn’t he?” he asked urgently.

 

Justin sighed in extreme concern.  “Yes,” he verified.  “He left his phone and told me to call you and try to explain where we were.”

“Shit!” Horvath muttered from his place in the car; he was finally on Highway 8 but in the darkness it was going to be extremely hard to find the other two men.  “I knew it; damn him!  Okay,” he said, gripping the wheel hard.  “You’ve got to try and tell me where you are, Justin.  Give me some sort of landmark to help me find you.  Is the house by the road?  Can I see your car?  Are there any lights nearby?  Anything at all?” 

 

Justin sighed, his eyes still boring into the darkened shape of the farmhouse, trying frantically to see Brian but being unsuccessful.  “After you get onto Highway 8 from the city, the house is about, I’d say, two or maybe three miles down on the right.  If you keep a sharp lookout for it, you can find the old metal post with the sign of the rooster still on it, but it’s hard to see in the dark.  There’re no farms or anything nearby, and the house sits far back from the road.  You can hardly even make out the driveway because it’s covered over with weeds.  There’s one light or a candle lit on the second floor and the man’s pickup truck is parked in front of Brian’s car. There’s nothing else around here, Sergeant.  You’ve got to hurry, though!  Brian left to go in there with his gun about a minute ago and now I can’t see anything!  Please – his son is running out of time; the man’s about to do something to him – I know it!”  Silently he pleaded for the other man not to waste time quizzing him on his psychic propensities, hoping he would simply find where they were and worry about his authenticity later.  “You’ve got to hurry!” he urged the other man once more.

 

“I’m on my way, Son,” Horvath assured him as he picked up some speed.  “And I’m radioing for back-up.  Just stay in the car and let me handle things from here, okay?”

 

Justin sighed, his body tense from apprehension and dread.  “Okay, but you’re got to get here NOW!” he told the other man.  “He’s running out of time!”

 

“Hang on, Justin,” Horvath told him with surprising gentleness, realizing the blond was fast reaching a breaking point.  “I’m going to disconnect so I can radio for backup.  I’ll be there within a few minutes.”  Justin heard a click from the other end, knowing the man had hung up as he flipped the phone shut; the car was bathed in silence except for his rapid, shallow breathing as he sat there helplessly, wondering what was going on inside.  Please help him.  Please help them both…

 

 

Same Time

 

Brian quietly crept up to the back door of the farmhouse, feeling the flat walking stones underneath his feet.  From what he could make out, the rear door entered into what appeared to be an old summer kitchen that had since been covered over, but in the semi-darkness it was difficult to make out what was inside.  He tried the door’s handle, finding it locked as he suspected it would be.  He thought fleetingly of simply shooting the doorknob off altogether, but dismissed the idea for fear it would spook the killer and make him accelerate whatever he had in mind for his son.  He just couldn’t risk that.  Reaching inside his pocket for a lock pick he always had at the ready, he used the flashlight he had to shine light on the keyhole as he inserted the thin, bobby-pin like instrument and quickly jiggled it inside, deftly hearing the tell-tale click of the locking mechanism soon afterward as he covered the flashlight’s beam with one hand and turned the handle to open the door with his other.

 

There was no discernible noise coming from inside initially as he entered; as he had suspected, the room was a former summer kitchen that appeared to have been converted to a laundry room – there was a washer and dryer, along with a cement tub, situated to his right along the wall.  He jumped in surprise as he suddenly heard a cat meowing from nearby; its almond-shaped eyes shone back at him in the flashlight’s glow as he aimed the beam at the feline.  He let out a quiet breath of relief before covering the light’s beam once more, but allowing just a sliver to shine through his splayed fingers so he could avoid tripping over anything and see just enough to find the steps.  From what Justin had envisioned, and in view of the lone light coming from upstairs, his detective’s instincts told him the killer and his son would likely be found there; he would start with that.  He walked through an adjoining kitchen and turned right to proceed through a narrow, short hallway, coming out by the front door.  There were two rooms to either side of the door; behind him, running parallel to the hallway, was the stairs ascending to the second floor.  He looked up, noticing the slight glow from either the lamp or candle he and Justin had noticed from the outside.  Again hearing no signs of occupation downstairs, he risked flashing his light quickly to the left, discovering an old-fashioned parlor with tall windows, a wood-burning fireplace, a sheet-covered Elizabethan-style couch and two accompanying chairs, also cloaked in white sheets.  There was dust covering each piece of furniture, indicating no one had formally lived in the house for some time.  Next, he pivoted for a couple of seconds to silently flash his light to the right, noticing a library filled floor-to-ceiling with built-in bookshelves, brimming to capacity with hardcover tomes in all shapes and sizes.  He could see more dust covering the top spines of the books and what appeared to be the outline of a desk and chair, covered with another musty-smelling sheet on other side of the room. 

 

Satisfied that no one was downstairs, he turned to walk up the steps, praying that they wouldn’t creak.  He was desperate to get to his son and wanted to fly up the steps immediately, disregarding the consequences, but he knew he had to do this slowly.  If he spooked whoever the killer was, it could all be over in an instant for his son.  Quietly, then, he placed his right foot on the first step and pulled himself up to the next one.  Then the next step, and the next, and the next, his hand holding the flashlight uncovered now as he cocked the trigger on his gun in preparation for the unexpected.  As he got to the middle of the flight of steps, he froze as he placed his foot on the next step and the wood creaked under his weight.  He quickly extinguished the flashlight, now able to see sufficiently from the glow of the lamp or candle on the second floor, and waited with held breath to see if he had been heard.  Fortunately, no one appeared, but as he stood there, he began to hear a deep, male voice softly speaking to someone from nearby.  “It’s time, Tommy.  Time to meet your next friend.  I think he’ll make a great player for your team.  He’ll be there soon.”

 

Brian’s heart dropped to the floor in panic.  Dismissing the need to be quiet and instinctively knowing his time – and his son’s – had run out, he quickly sprinted up the rest of the steps to the landing and turned quickly to the left where he had heard the voice speaking, making a beeline toward the light shining from a room at the end of the hallway.  As he reached the doorway, he dropped the flashlight and raised the gun in both hands, aiming it at a man sitting by the bedside of his son, who was lying still and unconscious, a yellow paper heart clipped to the left side of his chest.  God, please let him still be alive, he pleaded as he held the gun fast in his hands and glanced at his son’s tiny form in the bed.  “Back away from my son, you fucking asshole,” Brian snarled at the surprised, burly man staring back at him in shock.  “Do it NOW!  Or I’ll blow your fucking head off!”  At that moment, he was a father first, but also a cop.  And he couldn’t do it; even though he knew this man HAD to be the killer of so many children and he wanted to blow his brains out, he couldn’t kill the man in cold blood, no matter how badly he wanted to.  As sickening as it was to contemplate, he deserved to be tried just like any other criminal.  Please give me a reason to do it, though, he thought as he stared at the man, his eyes boring into him with quiet fury and disgust.  “Put your hands up and move away from him,” Brian told the other man, gesturing to the man’s left briefly with the nose of the gun.  “Over there….and don’t fucking move.” 

 

He watched as the man raised his hands as he was told before he heard him unbelievably whisper, “I was taking good care of him.”

 

“Shut up, you son of a bitch!  Or I WILL blow your brains out!” Brian snapped angrily, slowly approaching his son’s side as he eyed the man suspiciously from the corner of his eye.  If he found out that his son was dead, he wouldn’t care about “proper protocol;” the man would be a mass of bleeding pulp in seconds. 

 

Darting his attention between the man and his son, he knelt down by Gus’s temporary prison, reaching over with one hand to feel his son’s pulse.  His breath came out in a soft whoosh of relief as he felt a steady beat beneath his touch.  He closed his eyes for just a second and took a gulp of air, thankful he had reached him in time.  “Gus?” he said softly.  “It’s Daddy.  Can you hear me?” he asked pleadingly, silently urging his son to open his eyes, but his child remained still and lifeless.  He turned his eyes briefly toward the other man to make sure he was still standing against the opposite wall near a tall window that was so typical of older farmhouses.  “What did you give my son?” he demanded.  “What did he take, you bastard?”  The man’s eyes darted from the child to Brian, but he remained silent as he continued to hold his hands up.

 

“Answer me, damn it!  What did you GIVE my son?”  He aimed his gun at the man in a not-so-subtle sign that he was prepared to shoot the answer out of him if necessary.

 

“Chloroform,” the man finally answered in a raspy voice.  “Just chloroform.”

 

Brian’s blood boiled at the thought.  “Just chloroform,” he repeated with dead calm as he stared daggers into the other man’s eyes.  “You better hope my sergeant gets here in the next few minutes, or I’ll use something on you that will be a lot more permanent,” he promised before turning his gaze back to Gus.

 

“Can you hear me, Sonny Boy?” Brian urged.  “It’s Daddy.  Wake up!” he pressed his child.  He reached over to smooth some hair back from his son’s brow, noticing to his relief that the skin was warm to the touch.  As he did so, he laid the gun down on its side on the bed, his hand still clutching it as he placed the back of his other hand against his son’s cheek and lightly stroked it to comfort him. 

 

He didn’t notice the man to his side slowly inching closer to the window nearby until it was too late.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement just before a loud crash sounded as the large, muscular man rammed his body against the glass and the weakened panes gave way, causing his body to hurtle along with it to the ground below. 

 

“Shit!” Brian roared as he quickly whirled around and pumped off a few rounds from his revolver just as the man’s body disappeared out the window; he rose from his son’s side and rushed to the now shattered window, looking through the jagged shards of glass to the ground below to see if he had hit his mark.  The moon was presently hidden beneath the clouds, providing the perfect cover of darkness for the killer.  Brian quickly ran out of the room to the hallway, retrieving the flashlight; rushing back into the room, he ran to the open space where the window used to be and shone his light down onto the lawn.  To his horror, there was nothing there – just pieces of glass lying next to a row of thick bushes and what appeared to be fresh blood on the panes.  He sucked in a breath and turned around with desperate indecision, hoping to God that his son was going to be okay, but also knowing he couldn’t let the man get away.  He finally turned and flew down the steps at a furious run, quickly making a 180-degree turn as he reached the main floor to head down the first-floor hallway toward the kitchen, laundry room, and the back door.

 

 

Grimacing in pain from the blow to his side and a bullet that had grazed his arm, Carruthers forced himself to brace his body on his elbow and, sitting up on his knees, painfully rose to his feet from the dewy grass below; he knew he had seconds at best to escape before the man upstairs realized he wasn’t badly hurt.  He knew he had been taking a chance in throwing himself out the window, but he also knew there was a thick strand of bushes next to the house that would likely cushion his fall and it was his only way to escape.  He knew to his disappointment that this child would be lost to him, but he also knew he still had unfinished business to attend to for his son; he would just have to find two more now.

 

Fortunately, the room in which he had been keeping his son’s playmate had been facing the driveway, so when he fell out he found himself on the side nearest his vehicle.  Picking himself up painfully, he forced himself to begin walking toward his pickup truck but stopped short as the partial moon emerged from a patch of clouds and he noticed for the first time that his truck was hemmed in by another vehicle, no doubt the other man’s car.  “Damn it,” he cursed softly as he hobbled over to his truck and opened the driver’s side door to retrieve an item lying under the seat.  Not bothering to close the door, he glanced behind him to make sure his assailant hadn’t caught up to him yet as he turned and walked as fast as he could over to the vehicle parked behind his.  He tried the driver’s side to the sedan, but found it locked as he jiggled it angrily.  “No,” he moaned in frustration.  Suddenly, he realized the vehicle wasn’t empty; there was the slim profile of someone huddled on the opposite side of the car, propped against the passenger’s side.  He raised the object he had retrieved from his vehicle and aimed it at the person inside.  “Unlock the fucking door,” he demanded forcefully.  “Now.” 

 

Justin let out a terrified breath, knowing instinctively that this was the man from his visions, the man who had thought nothing of abducting and killing countless young boys; he knew he wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to him.  He had heard gunshots upstairs a few minutes ago and his heart had begun to pound with worry over what was happening as he wondered if Brian had been hurt, but he never in his worst nightmares thought he would be face to face with the killer.  Even in the dim light from overhead, however, there was no mistaking the reflection from the gun aimed at him from the window outside.

 

“I said open this fucking car!” the man demanded again in frantic desperation; he knew the other man would be out there in seconds.  “Do it!” 

 

Justin thought his heart would burst from his chest as he reached behind him to feel for the unlock button to the vehicle, almost wishing he couldn’t find it but knowing any second the man would get impatient and shoot him if he didn’t.  He had just located the power lock button and pressed down on it to disengage all the locks to the car when he heard another shot ring out and the man facing him placed one hand against the glass before he disappeared from his view.  His held his breath in terror as he waited, not knowing what to expect; he could hear the crunch of gravel outside and headlights piercing the darkness now as vehicles rushed up the driveway and he could see blue and red flashes of what must be an emergency vehicle’s lights dancing off the weather-beaten, dilapidated farmhouse as he waited for the killer’s face to reappear in the window.  “No!” he cried out as he felt someone trying to open the passenger side door; he quickly scrambled over to the driver’s side and curled into a ball as far away as possible before the door was wrenched open and he noticed someone leaning in through the car’s open door.  “Justin?” he heard someone urgently call out as his heart finally started beating again at the sound of a familiar but anxious voice.  “Justin, answer me!  Are you okay?”

 

He let out a breath of relief.  “B... Brian?” he managed to gasp out.  He slowly scooted over toward the brunet, who reached out and helped tug him out of the car.  As Justin stood up to face him, the detective impulsively swept him into a fierce hug, wrapping his hands around the other man’s slender back as he felt him trembling.  “Are you all right?” he whispered against the pale neck as Justin gripped his shoulders fiercely for a few seconds before they pulled back somewhat to look into each other’s eyes; the lights from the cop cars and the emergency vehicle were almost blinding now as Justin licked his lips to wet them and struggled to find his voice.   He nodded.  “The man… Gus… I thought you were hurt...”

 

“The man’s either dead or soon will wish he is – I fucking don’t care,” Brian told him; he hadn’t even bothered to check to see if the man was still alive after he had shot him from behind and his body had slumped against the side of the car; he chose instead to hurry over to the passenger side to check on Justin.  “I'm fine.  And Gus is alive and breathing – sedated with chloroform according to the bastard who was holding him.”

 

Justin nodded in relief, feeling an enormous weight lifting from his shoulders as Brian noticed Carl rushing up to him.  “Brian!  What happened?”  The three men observed a pair of paramedics rushing up with a stretcher behind Carl as Brian urgently called out to them, “My son’s upstairs!  I’ll show you!”  He turned quickly to Carl, adding, “The son of a bitch is over on the other side of the car – I had to shoot him; I’m not sure if he’s alive or not and I personally don’t give a fuck.”  He turned to look at Justin, his voice softening as he added quickly, “I have to be with my son, but…”

 

“Go,” Justin urged him as he wrapped his arms around his torso, still feeling the coldness permeating around him but not from the temperature.  “I’m okay.”  Brian nodded once before hurrying to catch up with the two paramedics who were entering by the back door.  Soon, a light flooded the side yard with some welcome illumination, and the entire yard surrounding the house was awash with more than ample light to see the crime scene. 

 

Carl turned to face Justin.  “If you’re okay, I’ve got to go check on the suspect,” he told him as the blond nodded understanding.  As the detective walked away, he found himself alone with his thoughts.  He was still shaking almost uncontrollably from what had just happened; the whole thing had been almost surreal.  But as he heard the clang of the portable gurney being brought back out of the farmhouse and saw the tiny, brunet-haired body lying strapped to the stretcher with Brian holding tightly onto his son’s hand, he knew it hadn’t been an awful dream; everything had been real.

 

He watched as the two paramedics began to wheel Gus toward the ambulance with Brian walking alongside.  Just before they collapsed the wheels and pushed the gurney inside, Brian turned to stare at him and they locked gazes for a few seconds.  Justin nodded slightly as Brian turned and hurried inside the back of the vehicle and the doors closed.

 

A few seconds later, he observed the emergency vehicle turn around in the grass and head back toward the main roadway, skirting the gravel pathway and actually driving in the weeds temporarily to bypass the other vehicles blocking the driveway.  Soon, he could hear the wail of the emergency siren piercing the solace of the night as it hurried toward the hospital.

 

Shortly afterward, he watched as the man who had pointed the gun at him was brought out from behind the other side of Brian’s car, also strapped to a stretcher; apparently, then, he was still alive, although from the looks of the men working on him with a portable lung inflator and the IV drip that had already been started, he was seriously wounded.  He shivered in repulsion as they, too, wheeled him to a second ambulance and pushed his gurney inside; two uniformed policemen climbed into the back of the vehicle before it, too, closed its doors and after turning around, proceeded back down in the same approximate path as the other ambulance.  A second emergency siren could be heard several seconds later as it, too, rushed toward the hospital with the suspect inside.

 

By now, there were approximately a dozen police cars scattered around the grounds, with several highway patrolmen and county cops roping off the house itself and the yard with crime scene tape.  He watched as they began to search the grounds meticulously for any evidence that would tie this man to the murders of the children, suddenly finding himself weary and shaken over the events of the past several hours.  He slumped against the side of the car as Horvath walked up to him.  “I’m going to need for you to come down to the station to give a statement, Son,” he told Justin, noticing how haggard and drawn he looked.  “But it can wait until you’ve had some rest,” he decided.  “I’ll find one of my men to take you home and you can come in tomorrow.” 

 

Justin nodded.  “Brian’s son?”

 

Carl told him, “He was breathing steadily when the paramedics checked him and his pulse was good.  They think he’s just heavily sedated, but they’re going to have him checked out just to make sure.”  He stared at the younger man, who visibly relaxed at the promising news, before he added adamantly, “You saved his life, you know.  If you and Brian hadn’t found him when you did, I’m convinced he would have been dead soon.” 

 

Justin sighed, feeling every stiff and tired bone in his body distinctly.  “I’m just glad it looks like he’s going to be okay.  I’ll feel a whole lot better when I know that for sure, though.”

 

Carl nodded back at him.  “Yeah, we ALL will.  It won’t bring back all those other children, but it’s the only piece of good news we’ve had in this whole fucking mess, and at least we know he won’t be free to kill ever again.”  He waved to a tall, lanky policeman nearby.  “Westfield!  I need you to do something for me!”  He turned to Justin as the other man approached.  “I’ll see you tomorrow, then, okay?”  Justin nodded as he watched Horvath walk over to the other man and speak to him before the officer nodded in acknowledgement and approached him to lead him over to his marked police cruiser. 

 

As he climbed into the back of the car, he gave the forlorn-looking, neglected farmhouse one more look before he closed his eyes in exhaustion, wondering if tonight would be the night he could finally sleep without any more visions appearing. 

 

Chapter Text

Allegheny County Children’s Hospital – One Hour Later

 

The sound of two women – one blonde, one brunette – frantically bursting through the entrance doors to the emergency room startled the lethargic-looking visitors slouched in standard-issue hospital chairs and couches scattered throughout the waiting room. 

 

Lindsay rushed up to the front reception area.  “My son!  He was just brought in here!”

 

A middle-aged, salt-and-pepper haired nurse sitting at the front desk looked into two pairs of frightened eyes as she said calmly, “His name?”

 

Lindsay took a deep breath before answering as Mel patted her soothingly on the back.  “Gus Peterson-Marcus.”

 

At the sound of her son’s name, the nurse’s eyes widened slightly as she glanced over at the uniformed policeman stationed just outside the double entrance doors to the triage area.  The policeman immediately walked over to join the three women as he said, “I have instructions from Sergeant Horvath to take you to him.”

 

Lindsay nodded as she and Mel hurried behind the long-legged, lanky policeman as he pushed the double doors to gain entrance and they rushed inside.  The typical hum, beeps and whirs of hospital machines, along with low-level conversation, filled their hearing but they ignored the stares of others as the policeman escorted them down the brightly-lit hallway for several feet until he came to one of the curtained-off cubicles on the right.  There were two more policemen standing just outside the partitioned area who nodded as their guide approached; one of them slowly drew the curtain back to reveal Brian sitting next to their son, holding his hand.

 

“Brian!” Lindsay exclaimed as she and Mel rushed over to him; Brian stood up long enough to give Lindsay a fierce hug.  “How is he?” she asked him anxiously as Mel walked over to the other side of their son’s bed and looked down at his closed eyes and unmoving, sleeping form.  “What’s wrong with him?” Lindsay asked in alarm, not accustomed to her son being so still.  When a policeman had called the two of them a short time ago, he had assured them that their son was alive and had been taken here to the hospital, but that was all the information he had been able to provide to them.  Now, as Lindsay looked with great concern at their still, unconscious child she couldn’t help the panic that began to creep into her voice.  “Brian?  Why is he not awake?  What did that monster do to him?”  She leaned over to place her hand against her son’s cheek.  “Gus,” she murmured plaintively, trying to will him somehow to awaken.  She looked up at Brian in panic as a horrible thought crossed her mind.  “He… He wasn’t…”

 

Brian placed his hand around Lindsay’s shoulders and gave her a squeeze; she couldn’t help noticing the lines of extreme exhaustion on Brian’s face and his bloodshot eyes.  “God, no,” he assured her quickly, guessing what her biggest fear was.  “The doctors said he’d been given chloroform to make him lose consciousness,” he spat out in disgust as the two women gasped in shock.  Even now after Brian had been apprised of how his son had been abducted and rendered unconscious, it made him want to choke the bastard until his eyes bulged out of his head.  He sighed, forcing himself to calm down and concentrate on his son instead.  “His vitals are good, though, and the doctors are hopeful he’ll regain consciousness shortly as soon as the effects wear off a little more.”

 

Mel softly brushed some hair back from their son’s face as she lifted her gaze to look at Brian, who leaned over the metal railing of Gus’s hospital bed to tenderly grasp his shoulder, needing to keep a constant hold on his son in an effort to let him know somehow that he was there.  “But he will be okay?” she asked softly, her normal domineering, brash demeanor gone now as she looked at their vulnerable child lying there; she knew that everyone present was only too painfully aware of just close their son had come to being another victim of the killer. 

 

Brian shrugged.  “You know the doctors – what’s the fucking term?  They’re ‘guardedly optimistic.’  They said there’s always the possibility of…,” he almost couldn’t speak the words aloud, “…brain damage depending upon the dosage that he was given.”  He heard Lindsay’s sharp intake of breath as she pulled up an additional seat and sat next to him to take took hold of Gus’ hand; he gave her arm a short squeeze as she looked back at him with tears in her eyes.  He continued, “They think at least he was given a mild dose, though; more than one dose actually,” he snarled, “because they said normally he wouldn’t still be unconscious otherwise; the doctors think he was given just enough to keep him under all the time, but they’re hopeful that he won’t suffer any lasting effects.  He should start to wake up soon if that’s the case.”  He snorted in disdain.  “At least he was a considerate killer.”  He let out a shaky breath.  “He only gave the kids enough to put them under before he eventually smothered them.”

 

Lindsay placed her chin on top of the hospital railing as she stared down at their son; she rubbed the tiny hand with her own, taking comfort in the warmth and softness she found there.  “What exactly happened, Brian?  All we know is what the policeman who called us was able to tell us; he said Gus had been found alive at some farmhouse on the outskirts of town and had been taken here to the hospital.  But he didn’t know how he had been found; was it you who figured out where he was?” 

 

Brian shook his head.  “No… I wish I could take the credit for finding the bastard, but it wasn’t me.”  He gazed down at his son who was alive and breathing – all because of one young man who refused to give up.  “It was Justin Taylor.”

 

Lindsay frowned.  “Justin Taylor?  Is that another cop?” 

 

Brian shook his head in response to her question; he had deliberately kept Justin’s involvement out of his conversations with the two women, partly because it was considered confidential police information and he didn’t want to risk jeopardizing their case, and partly because he didn’t want them to get their hopes up falsely that somehow Justin could help lead them to their son’s whereabouts.  Until yesterday, he himself had had doubts about his credibility.  Now he was almost afraid to admit that he had been forced to rely on a man he had previously thought was either an accomplice or some type of wacko out for publicity.  He still didn’t quite understand this horrible ‘gift’ that Justin had, but now there could be denying that it was real; it had saved his son’s life and quite probably who knows how many other children’s lives.

 

“No,” Brian told the two women who stared at him curiously.  He rubbed his hand over his face.  “It’s a long story,” he told them.  “I’m still trying to figure it out myself.” 

 

“What?” Mel pressed him.  “Figure what out?”

 

Brian knew this was going to sound bizarre, maybe even absurd, but there was no other way to explain it.  “He’s an artist who is also psychic.  He’s been having visions about this man and what he’s been doing to all these little boys.   Several days ago, he showed up out of the blue at the police station with these sketches he claimed he made about the crime scenes.  They were so fucking real I was convinced that he actually had something to do with the crimes and was some psycho trying to get a perverted type of attention out of it.”  He glanced down at Gus to make sure he was still breathing comfortably before he continued.  “I checked him out thoroughly – he’s a student at PIFA in the graphic arts program – and he came out clean.  But I just couldn’t believe he was able to see these images in his head; he had knowledge of information that only very few of us knew.  All the other sketches he had drawn had been done after the child had been killed.”  He looked once more at his unconscious child before explaining, “But this time it was different; he saw the bastard in his vision the night before Gus was taken – and that gave us just enough of a window to find him before he could carry everything out to its normal conclusion.” 

 

Both Lindsay and Mel were stunned into speechlessness for several seconds, trying to comprehend what Brian had just said.  Mel finally managed to utter in disbelief, “You relied on a fucking psychic to find him?”

 

Brian bristled.  “Yeah, Mel, I sat with my feet propped up on my desk eating a donut while he honed in on Gus’s aura until the vision came to him; he’s also really good at card tricks.”  He knew the scenario sounded crazy the way Mel was phrasing it – as if that had been the only thing he had been doing to try and find their son since he had been taken.  But there could be no denying it any longer; he had spent untold hours trying to track the fucker down the old-fashioned way, but in the end it had taken something totally the opposite – almost something faith-based rather than scientific – to locate his son just in time.

 

“Mel, Brian, please,” Lindsay soothed as she looked down at Gus, almost hoping that their outburst would help to wake him up; unfortunately, she didn’t see any perceptible change yet.  She looked over at Brian.  “You have to admit it all sounds kind of preposterous, though, Brian.  A psychic?  How was this man able to help you find Gus?”

 

Brian sighed.  “I know, I know,” he admitted grudgingly, “it all sounds so fucking unbelievable.  But we’d exhausted every other lead and avenue we had and were coming up with nothing.  And I also knew if the killer followed his normal M.O., we were running out of time to save him.”  He choked on the last few words, thinking how close they had come to doing just that.  He had no doubts that if they hadn’t reached Gus when they did, he would have been dead in short order.  He looked at both women, whose faces reflect a mixture of both skepticism and horror over what might have been.  “It’s a long story, and I can’t explain how he does it; I’m still having a hard time even believing he can.  But I’m convinced now; without his help, I never would have found our son in time.” 

 

His thoughts wandered, not for the first time, on how Justin was doing.  He had been so preoccupied with taking care of Gus and getting him to the hospital that he hadn’t had much time to dwell on Justin’s emotions or what he had been through; his son hadn’t been the only one who had almost wound up getting killed.  If he hadn’t come out of the farmhouse when he did, the fucker would have shot Justin at point-blank range.  He hadn’t had time to even think about it when he reacted  – not that he hadn’t been thirsting for a reason to exact his own form of justice on him – but when he had rushed out the back door and seen the man’s gun glinting off the sliver of moonlight above him, he didn’t hesitate to take him down. 

 

Carl had called him on his cell a little while ago to check on Gus – he was currently at Allegheny General Hospital overseeing the psychopath’s treatment and making sure he was guarded at all times – but he had told him that Justin had been escorted home by one of the other cops.  He had appeared to be okay, although shaken up, according to what his sergeant had told him.  But he knew a lot of times in cases of traumatic incidents, the repercussions of what had happened frequently didn’t register until later after the initial shock wore off.  No doubt Justin had to be experiencing a lot of different emotions right now, and he regretted that he couldn’t talk to him and tell him how much he owed him for saving his son’s life.  Carl had also told him he had given Justin until tomorrow to come down and make his statement about what had happened; perhaps if Gus was recovering sufficiently by then, that would give him the chance to talk to him as well.  In either case, he had a lot to discuss with the man who had managed to do what no one else had been able to do – catch the bastard who had snuffed out so many innocent lives and save his own son from the same fate.

 

Lindsay shook her head in disbelief.  “That is the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard,” she murmured.  “I’ve never really believed in those.  And for you to say you do now?”  She was still having as hard a time as Mel believing a psychic had been instrumental in rescuing their son, but she ultimately decided she didn’t care how he had been found as long as he was alive; her heart ached for the parents of those who had lost their children, but at least she and Mel would not have to join that sorrowful club. 

 

Brian shrugged as he slowly rubbed his son’s forearm tenderly and gazed down at his rosy-cheeked face, a good sign.  “That was before the man saved our son’s life,” he told them simply. 

 

The group fell silent, recognizing how perilously close they had come to losing this precious life that they all loved more than words could ever express.  Brian glanced up as the curtain parted again and a doctor wearing a white jacket entered the room.  Dr. Winchester, a sturdy-looking man in his 40’s with wavy dark hair, nodded at Brian, having met him earlier when Gus had been brought in.

 

“How’s he doing, Mr. Kinney?  Any signs of him regaining consciousness?”  He placed Gus’s medical chart down on the portable hospital table near his bed.

 

Brian shook his head.  “Not yet,” he answered as the doctor approached his young patient.  “Doctor, these are Gus’s other parents,” he explained, knowing their arrangement was a little unusual to say the least, but hoping the doctor wouldn’t dwell on it; there were much more important issues that needed to be taken care of instead of trying to dissect their unorthodox family unit.  “Melanie Marcus and Lindsay Peterson.”

 

The doctor nodded, wisely choosing not to worry about sorting out who was what to his patient.  “Ladies,” he simply acknowledged them with a nod as he leaned over the bed and gently opened Gus’s eyelids one by one to examine his reaction to his ophthalmoscope’s light.  “Pupil response appears normal,” he reported as the trio exhaled a collective breath of anxious relief.  He placed his instrument in an upper jacket pocket before reaching over to lightly tweak one of Gus’s upper ear lobes, noticing the child flinching slightly in response.  “And his reaction to pain is typical,” he reported with a nod.  He picked up Gus’s medical chart and glanced at the information.  “Latest numbers continue to show all his vital signs are good, and the EEG came back normal,” he added with a polite smile.  “I see no reason to anticipate that he won’t wake up from the effects shortly; everything looks very promising.”  He quietly flipped the chart shut.  “I’ll be back in soon to check on him again; we’re monitoring all his vitals in the meantime to make sure there aren’t any adverse changes.  If he does start to wake up, make sure you notify the nurse immediately.” 

 

“Thank you, Doctor,” Lindsay told the tall, dark-haired man as he nodded to the three and exited the cubicle.  She turned to take a closer look at Brian.  “You look exhausted,” she told him softly.  Brian’s normally unlined, handsome face was drawn and haggard, clearly reflecting the horror all of them had been through the past twenty-four hours; she also knew that he had taken this case very personally even before Gus had been directly involved, knowing that all the victims had to have reminded him of what they could stand to lose, too.  Of course, they had never in their wildest dreams thought something would actually happen to their own son – it was the old it won’t happen to me philosophy –  but their worst nightmare had come true.  No, not quite their worst nightmare, she corrected herself; that would have been if Brian – and this unique stranger to her that she still couldn’t quite figure out – hadn’t gotten to him in time.  “Mel and I will sit here with Gus – why don’t you go get some coffee or something to eat?  I bet you haven’t had any food or sleep in hours.”

 

Brian shook his head instantly.  “No,” he growled quietly as he stared at his son’s face, so much like his own.  “I’m not going anywhere until he wakes up and I know he’s okay.”   He did feel like he was almost existing in a trance state at the moment – he was mainly running on adrenaline presently – but he wouldn’t leave his son’s side until he knew for sure whether Gus had suffered any permanent damage due to the psycho’s treatment of him.

 

Lindsay nodded, figuring that would probably be her friend’s answer as she glanced over at Mel and they locked gazes.  She sighed, silently wishing that Gus would awaken.  “How much longer before you think the chloroform wears off?” she asked Brian. 

 

Brian shrugged.  “Hard to say,” he said.  “But the doctor said he should come out of it fairly quickly, now that he’s out of harm’s way and the fucker isn’t here to keep putting him under again.” 

 

Mel huffed out an angry breath at the mention of their son’s kidnapper.  “Just who is this guy, Brian?  The cop who called us only said he’d been injured and taken to Allegheny General in critical condition.  Do they have an identity on this monster?  Who would DO this sort of thing to children?”

 

Brian shook his head.  “As far as I know they don’t know who he is yet,” he told the two women.  “At least the last time I spoke with Horvath they didn’t.  There wasn’t any kind of ID on him when I shot him, but the forensics team was going over the house and Carl told me they were doing a search of the real estate records.”  He brushed his free hand across his face, almost trying to rub the exhaustion out of his body; he was weary, both physically and mentally – the past several hours since Gus had been kidnapped had been the worst time of his life, hands down.  He never wanted to experience the emotional overload he had been feeling; thanks to Justin, though, he had gone from the depths of despair and helplessness to heights of extreme gratitude and joy over the fact that his son had somehow been spared what so many others had not.  But he wouldn’t really feel the heavy weight threatening to crush him roll off his shoulders altogether until he knew for sure that his son was going to be okay.

 

Lindsay exclaimed, “You shot him?”  They hadn’t been told the details as to how the man had been critically injured.  In all the years she had known Brian, she didn’t think he had ever had to actually use his gun on someone.  But then again, their son had never been in danger before, either.

 

Brian nodded, his jaw set as he recalled how close the man had come to not only killing Gus but also hurting Justin, the man who had been instrumental in saving his son’s life.  “Yeah,” he told them as he continued to gaze at Gus, almost afraid his son would disappear into thin air if he took his eyes off him.  “The man managed to get away from me for a few minutes – I had my gun trained on him and looked over at Gus for just a second to check on him – but it was long enough for the fucker to jump out a damn second-story window.”  He shook his head, the entire episode still seeming almost surreal that someone would deliberately ram into the side of a closed window to escape.  “He got cut on the glass, but still managed to get up and hobble off toward his truck.  Only problem was, he noticed my car was parked behind it and he couldn’t get away.”  He exhaled a nervous breath as he recalled seeing the man standing next to his car, a gun trained inside toward Justin; even now his blood ran cold at the vision.  “He tried to hijack my car – with Justin still inside where I had told him to stay.  I didn’t have any choice,” he explained, “I’m sure the man would have shot him otherwise.  And I’m not sorry, either,” he told them with quiet fury in his voice.  “I’m just sorry the bastard wasn’t killed, whoever he is.  I should have killed him upstairs when I first found him,” he snarled.

 

“You couldn’t have done that,” Lindsay told him.  “Not if you were doing your job.”

 

Brian turned to stare into her eyes, his own a cold shade of almost coal-black.  “That was the only thing that prevented me from shooting him into a million fucking pieces,” he told Lindsay.  “That and the other parents whose kids were murdered; they deserve to know why he did what he did.” 

 

“Do they know if he’ll live?” Mel asked him.

 

Brian shook his head.  “From what Carl told me it’s touch and go,” he told her.  “Right now he’s the least of my worries, though.”  He glanced down at Gus and his eyes suddenly widened; was it his imagination, or was he seeing his son beginning to stir ever so slightly?  He gently squeezed his son’s wrist.  “Gus?  It’s Daddy.  Can you hear me, Buddy?” he whispered urgently as the two women trained their eyes hopefully on their child.  “Wake up, Sonny Boy!” he tenderly beseeched him.  “Open your eyes!” he commanded quietly, his voice breaking as he definitely saw his son’s body moving ever so imperceptibly.  “You can do it, Gus!  Wake up for me and your mommies, okay?” 

 

The three held their breaths together as slowly they noticed Gus’s eyelids fluttering as he struggled to obey his father’s plea.  Finally, two unfocused orbs appeared under heavily-lidded lashes as he slowly began to wake up.  Brian’s face lit up with a beaming smile as he watched his son turn his head after a few seconds to follow his voice and look his way. 

 

“That’s my big boy,” Brian said proudly, feeling like his heart was about to burst from relief.  “That’s my Sonny Boy,” he murmured as he squeezed his son’s arm and smiled at him.  He heard Lindsay sniffling next to him, overcome with emotion as well as she whispered to Gus, “Hey, Sweetheart.  It’s Mommy.  And your mama’s over there, too,” she told their son, nodding her head over at Mel, whose eyes were also surprisingly glistening with tears of both relief and happiness.  “Hey, Baby,” she said to their son as he turned his head to look over at her.  “We are so glad to see you awake – you have no idea.”

 

The doe-eyes blinked, large and dark, as he looked back at his father, who couldn’t keep smiling at him.  Brian noticed his son trying to talk and said, “It’s okay, Buddy.  Everything’s fine.  Don’t try to talk right now, Gus.”

 

But his son struggled to speak.  “Drink,” he finally managed to croak out in a barely-audible voice.  Brian looked around for a plastic cup and quickly poured a half-full glass of water.  He started to reach over to help his son take a drink with the bent plastic straw, but Lindsay placed her hand on his arm.  “Maybe we’d better check with the doctor first,” she told him as her friend looked at her questioningly.  Brian nodded, hating to deprive his son of his request but deciding they needed to be careful.  “Sorry, Buddy,” he murmured.  “I’ll make sure you get some water just as soon as the doctor takes a look at you.”  He looked over at Mel who was closest to the button to monitor a nurse.  “Can you call the doctor?” he asked, a little perturbed that he had to even ask her to do it; he thought that she should have realized it needed to be done the moment their son had awakened.

 

She glared at him momentarily before reaching over to press the call button.  After several seconds a disembodied voice said, “Yes?”

 

Brian spoke up.  “This is Brian Kinney in Room 207.”  He could barely believe it himself yet as he said, his voice unable to hide the happiness inside him, “My son Gus just woke up.”

 

The nurse on the other end promptly stated, “I’ll summon the doctor for you,” before disconnecting. 

 

Brian turned to gaze at his son, whose face displayed his confusion from all the lights and contraptions surrounding his bed; there were all sorts of questions undoubtedly running through his mind.  After all, the last his son probably remembered was being in school for recess.  “It’s okay, Buddy,” Brian told him softly as he reached to lightly squeeze his son’s arm as Lindsay stroked his cheek.  “You were sick and had to come to the hospital for a little while.  But you’re going to be all better real soon.”  He saw no need in mentioning the real reason why his son was lying there in a hospital bed; if there was any chance at all that Gus could remember any of what had happened to him, the last thing Brian wanted to do was reinforce it.  Hopefully, if the doctor was correct, his son would never know the horror he had endured at the hands of that inhuman monster and the pain that those who loved him had experienced for the past several hours.

 

He looked up as Doctor Winchester rushed back into the curtained-off area.  He smiled, pleased.  “Well, someone is awake,” he stated.  Lindsay and Brian reluctantly released their hold on their son as the doctor approached the bed.  “Hello, Gus – I’m your doctor.  I’m very glad to see you’re awake,” he told the little boy as Gus stared at him, a little nervous around this stranger with the authoritative voice.  “I just need to take a look at you to make sure you’re doing all right, okay?  How are you feeling?”

 

Gus watched, wide-eyed now as the doctor gently untied his hospital gown – the pajama top and paper heart long ago confiscated by the police for evidence – and told him, “This might be a little cold, but I need to listen to your heart, okay?”  Gus raptly stared at the man as he reached to place the end of his stethoscope down against Gus’s chest and the little boy giggled softly at the ticklish contact; Brian thought it was the most magical sound he had ever heard as both Mel and Lindsay smiled in delight at his reaction. 

 

The doctor listened for several seconds and nodded as he removed it.  “Sounds good,” he reported to the adults in the room.  “Can you watch my finger, Gus?” the doctor asked as he slowly moved his finger from left to right to observe Gus’s reaction.  He dropped his finger after a while and pulled Gus’s gown back together.  “How old are you, Buddy?” he asked with a smile. 

 

Gus slowly raised both hands after a few seconds – one spread out wide and the other holding up his index finger as he proudly told him in a slightly raspy voice spoken barely above a whisper, “Six.” 

 

Dr. Winchester smiled.  “Good… You’re a big boy, then,” he praised him as the boy shyly smiled back. 

 

“He wanted a drink earlier,” Brian told him.  “Can he have some water?”

 

The doctor nodded.  “Yes – but he needs to take small sips at first – his system is still trying to flush itself of the chemicals he was given.”

 

“But he will be okay?” Lindsay pressed him for reassurance as Brian retrieved the half-full glass of water and held the straw up to his son’s lips for him to take a small drink. 

 

The doctor watched his patient as Brian admonished Gus not to take too much at once.  “Everything looks good,” the doctor verified.  “I think he’ll make a full recovery.  In fact, if he continues to improve in his alertness and his vitals remain strong, and he can keep a light breakfast down in the morning, I think he can be discharged sometime tomorrow as long as someone can monitor him closely for the next few days.”

 

“That’s wonderful news, Doctor!” Lindsay told him, beaming at her son.

 

The doctor nodded with a smile.  “Yes, it is,” he agreed.  He watched the boy silently for a few seconds longer to make sure he was able to keep his sips of water down before he quietly added, “He’s an extremely lucky boy.”  It wasn’t unheard of over the years for crime victims to wind up here at the hospital, unfortunately, but it happened so infrequently that any time the cops arrived with an injured party he knew something unusual had happened.  It hadn’t taken long for him to overhear enough from the policemen stationed around the child to know just how fortunate Gus Kinney had been.  This child had apparently been meant to be the child killer's next victim.  Now, from what he had also gleaned, the man who was alleged to have killed so many young boys recently was now battling for his own life at Allegheny County General thanks to the child’s detective father.  As he stared at the one child who had managed to come out alive, he thought this might just be one time where he wouldn’t have minded disobeying his Hippocratic Oath if he had been given the chance to treat the monster who had caused so much grief and heartache to so many parents.  Rot in hell, you bastard, he couldn't help thinking silently as he gazed at the innocent child lying in the nearby hospital bed. 

 

“I’ll be back in to check on him later,” he said aloud to the group clustered around the boy.  “If anything should change, contact the nurses’ station and they’ll summon me, but I don’t really foresee that happening.  Just make sure he gets as much rest as possible until breakfast tomorrow morning, and we’ll see how he does then.”  He smiled down at Gus.  “I’ll see you later, Little Man,” he told his patient before nodding at the trio and turning to leave, briefly parting the curtain in departure.

 

The room seemed to brighten immediately now that Gus was finally awake and responsive; Gus’ drinking cup empty now, Brian turned to place it down on the narrow, portable hospital bed and gave Lindsay a relieved hug.

 

“He’s going to be okay, Brian,” she said to him in jubilation as they held onto each other tight.  “He’s really going to be all right.”

 

Brian nodded as he broke away and stared into her eyes.  “I wasn’t sure this was going to have a happy ending,” he admitted to her softly, able to reveal to her his biggest fear now that the danger had apparently passed and Gus was on his way to a full recovery.

 

Her eyes filled with tears as she glanced over at Mel; she noticed she had the same type of look on her face.  “I know,” she whispered.  “We felt that way, too.”  She reached over to squeeze Brian’s arm as she said, “I knew that if anyone could find him and bring him back to us safely, though, it would be you.”  She silently marveled at how much of a transformation Brian had undergone from the moment he had first agreed to be the sperm donor for Gus to how he felt now – it was as if two distinct men were involved; the change had been that remarkable.  But she wouldn’t have had it any other way – Brian and Gus had both benefitted and flourished from the change.

 

Brian gazed at his son, whose eyes had an alertness now and were looking pretty much normal; his face was pink and the hand he was clutching in his was soft and warm – just like it should be.  “You give me too much credit, Linds,” he told his friend softly.  “I had help – a lot of help.”  He thought about Justin once more, wondering how he was.  “Hey, Sonny Boy,” he whispered to his son.  “I have to step out of the room for just a few minutes, okay?  I’ll be right back.”  He leaned over to bestow a light kiss on his son’s cheek as he stood up.  “I need to make a few calls,” he told the two women in explanation.  “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

 

“Take your time,” Lindsay told him with a smile as she reached over to brush some hair away from Gus’s eyes.  “I think we’re all going to be just fine now.”  She looked over at Mel and said, “I think our son could use a haircut, though.”

 

Brian grinned, thinking he never thought he would be so deliriously happy to hear such a thought.  “Yeah, I think you do, Sonny Boy,” he told Gus as he prepared to leave.  He stopped, however, when he heard his son call out to him.

 

“Daddy?”

 

Brian turned.  “Yeah, Buddy?” he asked tenderly.

 

“Are we still going to the baseball game?”

 

Brian had to laugh, thinking how wonderful it was now to have something so minor to worry about.  “We will,” he told his son.  “But it will have to wait a couple of days – Daddy has some work he has to finish up and he forgot to bring your cap to wear.”  As his son’s face clouded over in disappointment, he hastened to reassure him.  “But don’t worry, Sonny Boy, you and I will definitely go soon – in fact, I think there’s a doubleheader next weekend – we can go to two games instead of one!  Would you like that?”  He knew he would go out of his way to make sure he and his son had the best fucking seats to both games, too…

 

His son’s eyes lit up.  “We can go to two games?”

 

“You bet, Buddy,” Brian told him with a smile.  “And all the hot dogs, peanuts, and ice cream you can handle.”

 

“Brian!” Lindsay chided him as Gus beamed in response.  “Let’s at least wait until he’s back on solid food, okay?”  She couldn’t help smiling, though; it felt good to finally smile again.

 

“Oh, he’ll be fine by then,” Brian told her, confident that his son would be more than ready for baseball by next weekend – his son was a fighter.  “I’ll be right back, Sonny Boy,” he told Gus as he turned and left, walking down the corridor and out toward the exit doors.  He flipped open his cell phone as soon as he stepped outside and lit up a cigarette, needing the nicotine fix after the unbelievable events of the past several hours. 

 

“Brian… I was hoping you’d call.  How’s your son?” Carl asked his detective as he answered the phone. 

 

“He’s doing great,” Brian told him, letting out a breath of relief.  “He’s awake and his vitals are good.  He’s drunk some water and is talking a little.  The doctor thinks he might even get discharged some time tomorrow.”

 

“That’s fabulous news,” Carl told him sincerely.  “That’s wonderful.”  He sighed.  “I don’t need to tell you how lucky we were.”

 

“No,” Brian told him, swallowing the lump in his throat.  “You don’t .  I feel like I just won the lottery big time.  It’s just a fucking shame that monster got away with all those other murders before he got caught.”

 

“Yeah,” Carl told him.  “I know.”  He took a deep breath.  “By the way, we know who the guy is now, and you’re not going to believe it.”

 

Brian walked farther down the sidewalk, away from the entrance where it was more private.  “Who?”

 

“His name is Thomas Carruthers.  Actually Thomas Carruthers, Jr.”

 

Brian frowned as he wracked his brain.  “Carruthers… Why does that name sound familiar?”

 

From his place inside his police car, Carl told him, “Maybe because his father was the former chief of police for the 24th precinct down the street for 22 years.”

 

“Shit!” Brian exclaimed.  “Are you fucking kidding me?”

 

Carl sighed.  “I wish I was.  I knew Tommy Carruthers for a long time – we went through the academy together and were good friends until he passed away about 10 years ago.  I even met his son once or twice a long time ago, but I didn’t recognize him when he was brought into the hospital tonight.  We found out who he was through a search of the real estate records and his fingerprints – seems he had to be fingerprinted several years ago when he did some work for the city and had to be bonded.  He’s a painter by trade.”

 

Brian nodded; that made sense – it was just as he had suspected and fit how Justin had described him as well as his work truck.  “Has anyone questioned him yet?  How do you go from being the son of the fucking police chief and doing painting to becoming a child killer?”

 

Carl sighed.  “That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?  He hasn’t regained consciousness yet since coming out of surgery a little while ago; apparently he had some internal injuries from the gunshot wound as well as a collapsed lung; had to have his spleen removed, too, from what the doctors told me.  He’s still in recovery; and besides, the doctors said he’ll be heavily sedated for a while.  We’re not going to get anything out of him for some time, unfortunately.”

 

Brian cursed under his breath, impatient to learn more about the type of person who could perform such heinous, inhuman acts.   “Does that mean he’s supposed to eventually recover, though?”

 

“Doctors aren’t sure,” Horvath said cryptically.  “It could still go either way.”

 

“Well, you know how I feel; the man should die a fucking tortuous death and be dumped over a ravine like the trash he is, just like he treated his victims.  But I also know all those parents of the murdered kids deserve answers for why he did it.  I don’t get it at all.  But then again, when you’re dealing with a psycho, they’re not human anyway.” 

 

“Yeah,” Carl agreed.  “I know.  I’ve got two policemen outside his room at the ICU to keep tabs on him until I return.  Believe me, we won’t miss an chance to question him if the opportunity arises.  We’ll just have to wait and see if he survives.  In the meantime, I’m going to start digging into his background to see if I can learn anything about what might have motivated him to commit all these crimes.”  He started up the car, prepared to return to the station; it had already been a long night, but he couldn’t stop now.  He was prepared to do an all-nighter if necessary to get the information that all the parents of the victims and no doubt the press would be clamoring for soon enough.  So far, he had been able to keep tonight’s events a secret, but he knew it was just a matter of time before the news was released.  If nothing else, he would have to issue some sort of statement in the morning to reassure the community that the killer had apparently been caught and would never be able to murder another child again.  Whether the man eventually died from his injuries or was charged with the crimes, he knew one thing – as long as he could take a breath, the man would never see the light of day ever again, at least not outside prison walls.  “You going to stay with your son?”

 

“Yeah, for the time being,” Brian told him.  “At least to make sure he doesn’t suffer any type of setback.  You want me to come back to the station afterward to help you?”  He knew his sergeant wouldn’t be leaving the precinct tonight, not until he had all the answers they were seeking.

 

“No,” Carl told him firmly.  “You stay with your son and then go home and catch some shut eye.  You won’t be much good to me like you are – you’re fucking dead on your feet, Kinney.  I’ll call you if I find out anything more about Carruthers, but you go home and get some rest – that’s an order, got it?”

 

Brian yawned deeply, the events of the past several hours quickly catching up to him.  “Yeah, Sarge, I got it.  I’ll catch a little sleep after I double check on Gus.  I’ll be in first thing in the morning, then.”

 

“Good… And, by the way, great job on apprehending this monster.  At least we know he won’t do this to any more kids now.”

 

Brian had to be honest with his sergeant as well as himself.  “It wasn’t me, Carl,” he said softly.  “I didn’t find him – we both know who did that.  Any idea how he’s doing?”

 

“Not really,” Carl told him honestly.  “Springfield took him home about four hours ago.  Said he looked exhausted but really didn’t say anything to him other than to thank him for the ride home.  He should be coming down to the later today, though, to make his statement.  I’m going to find his description of tonight’s events interesting to say the least.”  He let out a heavy breath as he began to wind his car through the mostly abandoned streets of the city.  “Remember how the other cops I knew believed in psychics but I told you I wasn’t convinced?  Well, you can add me to the list of believers now.”

 

Right after he hung up with his sergeant, Brian said softly to himself, “Yeah… Me, too, Sarge.  Me, too.”

 

 

Justin’s apartment

 

The bright light shining under her door startled Daphne as she turned over in her bed and looked at the clock:  4:00 a.m.  She knew she had turned off all the lights except for the one over the kitchen stove earlier when she had awakened and padded out to get a drink around midnight, only to discover Justin’s note advising her that he “had to go out.”  The light must mean he was back.  Ever since he had started having those horrible visions of the child killer, Justin hadn’t been sleeping well at all.  But the thought of him just rushing out alone late at night concerned her, especially in his fragile state of mind.  Throwing back the covers, she slid her feet into a pair of worn, well-loved light blue slippers and, clad in a long tee shirt she used as a nightgown, she walked over and opened her door to peek outside.  The lamp next to the couch was on – the one that was florescent and always seemed so much brighter than the other lights around the apartment.  As she walked farther down the short hallway and came to the other end, she could see Justin curled up on the couch in a fetal position, his hands clasped under his head almost as if he were in prayer.  A thin, somewhat threadbare light-blue throw that his mother had crocheted for him several years ago and was well past its prime, was draped haphazardly over his body.  His eyes were closed, but somehow Daphne suspected he really wasn’t sleeping.  “Justin?” she whispered softly just in case she was wrong.

 

Sure enough, she watched as her friend’s eyes opened slowly and he turned his head slightly to stare at her.  As she walked up closer to the couch, Justin swung his legs around and sat up with a yawn, curling his legs under him as he moved the crocheted throw to the side so Daphne could sit down next to him.  She noticed he was barefoot, but was still dressed in a pair of beige chino’s and a dark-blue, short-sleeved tee shirt, the same clothing he had been wearing yesterday evening before she turned in. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sighed.  “Hey, Daphne,” he said softly.  “Sorry – did I wake you?”

 

She shook her head.  “Not really – I woke up and noticed the light on under my door.  I knew I hadn’t left it on so I figured that must mean you were back.”  She looked at her friend’s face that was normally so vibrant and animated; right now, though, the exhaustion and weariness that had been haunting him for several days was more evident than ever.  “I was worried about you when I woke up earlier and saw your note.  Where did you go?”

 

Justin hung his head in his hands as he looked down at his lap.  “Oh, boy, where do I start?” he murmured wearily.  “I was with Brian.”

 

“Brian?  As in Brian Kinney, the asshole detective?”

 

Justin smiled slightly.  “Well, I guess some would call him that.”

 

Daphne snorted.  “Some?  I think he should get his name legally changed to that – Brian Asshole Kinney.  Sort of has a nice ring to it.”  Justin pressed his palms to his eyes, totally spent from the events of the past several hours.  “Why were you with him?”  A sudden disgusting thought occurred to her.  “He didn’t make you go back down to the police station for more questioning, did he?”

 

Justin shook his head.  “No.”  He looked over at his friend.  “Shit – I’m not even sure where to start with this.”  He took a deep breath and let it out.  “Brian came over here to our apartment right after you went to bed to ask for my help in finding his son.”

 

“That’s a new one,” Daphne hissed.  “I hope you told him to go to hell.”

 

“He was already there,” Justin told her softly.  “You should have seen him, Daph – he was desperate; he was a completely different person.  He was practically begging for my help.”

 

Daphne stared at him skeptically.  “I have a hard time believing that after the way he treated you.”

 

Justin grimaced.  “Yeah… I can understand why.  But he was, Daphne – he was frantic with worry over his son.  He was holding Gus’s ball cap in his hands, twisting it over and over.  He actually looked me in the eyes and asked me for my help.  Said I was his last hope of finding him.”

 

Daphne huffed in disbelief.  “And you agreed to try and help him, didn’t you?”

 

Justin tossed the throw onto the back of the couch and stood up, rubbing the back of his stiff neck; he was bone weary and dead on his feet, but he had to explain to her what had happened.  “Yes,” he told her as he turned to face her; Daphne opened her mouth, no doubt to protest vehemently but he pressed on before she had a chance.  “What choice did I have, Daphne?” he asked.  “Sit here and do nothing while his son is murdered, or try somehow to help find him?  You know I couldn’t let that happen – not if there was any chance I could help find him before it was too late.”

 

“And did you?” his friend asked quietly, holding her breath.

 

Justin came back over and sat down next to her to gaze into her eyes.  He finally nodded, the hint of a smile on his face.  “Yeah… I did,” he told her, no hint of pride or bragging in his voice.  “I managed to help find out where he was being held and Brian got to him just in time.”

 

“Shit!” Daphne exclaimed in astonishment, her eyes wide with incredulity as she stared open-mouthed at Justin; any sleepiness was instantly gone as she asked, “They caught the guy who’s been doing this?”

 

Justin nodded.  “Yeah… Just in time, too; the guy had a gun on me when Brian shot him.  He was taken to Allegheny General according to the cop who drove me home.  Brian’s son was taken to Children’s Hospital where I imagine Brian is now.”

 

“Whoa – back up, Justin!” Daphne cried out as she grabbed Justin’s wrist.  “You said the guy had a gun on you?” 

 

Justin nodded.  “Yeah – Brian had told me to stay in his car with the doors locked while he searched this farmhouse we wound up at.  The guy managed to escape from the house after Brian found him and couldn’t get away in his own truck because Brian had him blocked in, so he tried to force me to open the door so he could get into Brian’s car.  Brian shot him in the back just before he would have pulled the trigger at me.”  He shivered and hugged himself at the horrifying recollection.  “I was so fucking scared, Daphne!  I really thought the guy was going to kill me, too.”  He let out a shaky breath.  “He would have – I have no doubt of it.  You should have heard his voice when he spoke to me.  It was cold and remorseless – totally devoid of any emotion.”  He bit his lip as he stared into her eyes.  “Brian saved my life, Daphne, after I helped him find his son.”   He laughed softly at the irony.  “Funny, isn’t it?”

 

Daphne reached over to squeeze Justin’s bicep.  “No, Justin, it’s fucking terrifying!  You could have been killed!”  She shook her head.  “Shit!  I can’t believe this all happened while I was asleep!  How long have you been back here?”

 

Justin glanced over at the small clock above their television.  “Around two or three hours, I guess.”  He sighed.  “I tried to sleep, but every time I closed my eyes I just saw that man’s face over and over again and heard his voice threatening me.  I don’t think I’ve gotten more than a few minutes of sleep since I’ve been back.”  He sighed.  “I was hoping that now that he’d been caught, all the bad visions would miraculously end.”  He snorted.  “Obviously I was wrong.”

 

“Why didn’t you wake me when you got back, Justin?  I should have been out here with you.”  She reached over to lightly rake the back of her hand against his cheek supportively.

 

Justin shook his head and smiled at her slightly.  “What good would it have done for both of us to be unable to sleep?  There wasn’t anything you could have done anyway, Daph.  I’m not sure what anyone can do to help me.” 

 

Daphne stared at him sympathetically.  “But you said they caught the killer, right?  That means no more children will be murdered.  You should be relieved – and I think proud – to know that.  If it hadn’t been for your help, it sounds like Kinney never would have found the guy – or his son.  Don’t you think that will help you sleep better now, knowing that the guy will never kill again?”

 

Justin sighed.  “You would think that would help, wouldn’t you?”  He closed his eyes wearily for a moment before he whispered tearfully, “God, how I wish I could sleep without having these awful dreams.” 

 

Daphne reached over to lightly stroke his back.  “Give it a little more time, Justin.  All this just happened tonight.  Maybe you just need time to get used to the idea that he really can’t hurt those children any more.  You need to concentrate on what you did do – it sounds like you saved Kinney’s son’s life.  You need to remember that – and he needs to do some major groveling to you.” 

 

Justin shook his head.  “I don’t care about that, Daphne – I just didn’t want to see another little boy murdered.  Now at least I know he can’t do that to someone else’s child.”  He stared over at one of his sketchpads lying on the coffee table in front of him, thinking about how this whole horrid nightmare had started.  “Why would anyone want to hurt children?” he asked, not sure if he was expecting an answer from his friend or not.  “Why?” 

 

Daphne twisted her mouth and shook her head.  “I can’t answer that, Justin, because no one who’s a normal human being could imagine doing something like that.  This man doesn’t deserve to be gum on somebody’s shoe,” she spat out.  “You said Kinney shot him; I don’t really care for the guy, but in this case I wish he’d fucking shot the man’s head off, instead of just injuring him.  How badly was he hurt?”

 

“I’m not sure.  I know he was shot in the back, but that’s about all.” He shuddered.  “Everything that happened after he almost shot me was pretty much a blur; I couldn’t stop shaking like some scared little faggot after it happened.  I saw Brian leaving with his son for the hospital before they took the guy away in an ambulance.  Then one of the officers came over and told me the sergeant had assigned him to drive me home.  That’s about all I know, though.  I’m not sure I want to know any more, either; Sergeant Horvath told me I could wait until later today to come down and make a statement about what happened.”  He looked over at his friend in alarm as a thought occurred to him.  “You don’t think Brian’s little boy might have gotten worse after he was taken to the hospital, do you?  I mean, no one’s contacted me either way, but...”

 

“You want me to turn on the TV?” she asked her friend.  “Maybe they have more details about what happened.”  Justin bit his lip for a few moments before he quietly nodded.  Daphne reached to flip on the remote as she began to surf through the local stations; there was nothing on any of the channels, however; simply infomercials or early-morning talk-shows.  “Nothing,” she murmured in surprise.  “You think they don’t know yet?  Surely if they did, it’d be all over the news stations.  They’ve practically talked about nothing else for the past several weeks since the first child was murdered.”

 

Justin shrugged as he studied the last station before Daphne flipped the television off.  “I don’t know – it sure looks like it.  Maybe they don’t want to acknowledge it until they find out more about the guy who was caught.”

 

She nodded.  “Could be.”  She glanced over at Justin’s drawn, weary face.  “But it might help you to sleep if you were sure Kinney’s little boy was all right.”  She stood up.  “I’m going to grab my laptop and see if there’s any information listed on there,” she decided as she walked over to their small dinette table and sat down in front of her computer.  “Normally it shows up there before the newscasts mention it.”

 

A few minutes later, though, she came up empty there as well.  “Well, it’s incredible that the news media haven’t caught wind of what’ going on; the police must be awfully tight-lipped about everything.”  She looked around for their phone directory that was normally located on a small desk by the only outside window in the living area.  “I’m going to call the police station and see if I can reach Horvath.”

 

“No… Daph, don’t do that,” Justin beseeched her. “I’m sure they’ve got their hands full right now.” 

 

“Justin – after all you did, the least they could do is tell you how Kinney’s son is doing,” she insisted. 

 

“Daphne, they won’t tell you even if you do call, and neither will the hospital,” he told her.  “Privacy laws and all.”

 

She huffed in irritation.  “I guess so,” she grudgingly agreed as she walked back down and knelt down in front of her friend.  “Well, I at least can try and help you get some rest.”  She reached and took Justin’s hand as she stood up.  “Come on,” she said forcefully.

 

Justin looked up.  “Where?”

 

“You’re going to your bedroom and I’m staying with you until you get some sleep.”

 

Justin flushed, not wanting to be anyone’s bother or pity case.  “You don’t have to do that – you have to get some sleep yourself.”

 

“I did get some sleep,” she reminded him.  She tugged gently at his hand, not willing to take no for an answer.  “Up,” she commanded firmly. 

 

Justin knew from the determined look on his friend’s face that she would not be dissuaded from her mission.  He gazed into her fierce brown eyes as he finally stood up to join her.  “Thanks,” he told her simply as she nodded back at him.

 

A few minutes later, Justin was lying on his side in his bed as Daphne sat on the edge nearby.  As she slowly stroked his forehead like a mother would for her child, his eyes slowly fluttered closed and despite his troubled mind, exhaustion overtook him and he was asleep in minutes.  As she lay down facing him, watching the soft rise and fall of his chest, her heart went out to her friend for the emotional pain he was still feeling, hoping somehow that the killer’s apprehension and imprisonment would be just the beginning of torture for the killer, while her friend would finally be set free from his own personal type of hell.  As she wrapped her hand lightly around Justin’s waist in support, she, too, felt her eyes drift closed as she finally fell into a fitful sleep alongside him.

Chapter Text

Seven a.m. – Brian’s Loft

 

Despite his exhaustive state, Brian’s training as a police detective caused him to become instantly awake when he heard the sound of his landline phone ringing, permeating through his drowsiness.  Turning over in his bed and glancing at his alarm clock, he was surprised to see that he had been able to actually manage a few hours’ sleep.  He reached for the receiver anxiously, hoping it wasn’t Lindsay calling him from the hospital with bad news. 

 

“Kinney.”

 

“Brian, it’s Carl.  Sorry to wake you.”

 

Brian sat up in bed, the headboard cold against his bare skin.  He brushed the hair from his forehead in relief that it wasn’t his friend as he responded, “It’s okay.  Have you found out more about Carruthers?” 

 

“Yeah,” was the terse reply.  “He’s still under sedation and unconscious, and still in ICU.  I spoke to one of his doctors this morning - his prognosis is still up in the air and he’s listed as extremely critical.”

 

Brian exhaled a heavy breath.  “Fucker – he’ll probably die before we have a chance to question him.  What about the farmhouse where he was keeping Gus?  Surely the guys out there have had time by now to probe for evidence.  He had to have left something there.”  Brian had had enough experience in the past to know that despite a suspect’s best intentions in not leaving any recriminating evidence around a crime scene, their own residence was a whole different matter.  It was hard not to leave any telltale signs of your activity where you actually conducted your daily routine.

 

Horvath snorted.  “Yeah… I’m out here right now in fact – they just finished up with their search of all the grounds before I got here.  Carruthers wasn’t smart enough to cover his tracks here; I guess he had gotten either so cocky or delusional about no one being able to identify him that he didn’t think it was necessary to worry about this place.   He’s got a virtual blueprint of his involvement with the murders upstairs in one of the bedrooms.  Boys found an old trunk up there – full of clothing, apparently what he took off each victim before he redressed them in the sleepwear and put those fucking paper hearts on them.”  Brian could hear Horvath pause, almost able to imagine him setting his jaw because of something unpleasant, before he told him, “They… They found your son’s clothing among the items inside – a pair of jeans and a Pirates shirt, along with his shoes and socks.  You know we’ll have to keep all that for evidence.”

 

Brian shuddered, repulsed at the thought of his son’s clothing being removed by that greasy-haired, psycho gorilla.   The veins on his neck rose to the surface and he had to take a deep breath to calm himself before he could reply, “Yeah… I know.  What else did they find?”  He tried hard to keep any emotion out of his voice, but he knew his superior could still hear it anyway.  Brian was normally quite adept at keeping himself neutral in situations, despite how awful some crimes could be, but in this case it was impossible.

 

“Well, he’s got a virtual shrine upstairs to his own son – his dead son.  He had a large portrait of him on the fireplace mantel surrounded by the kid’s baseball trophies and some John Deere memorabilia.”

 

Brian scooted up farther in the bed as his breath caught in his throat.  “Dead son?”

 

“Yeah… I did some more research on our suspect earlier.  Seems he had a son, also named Thomas – went by Tommy.  Kid died, though, about a year ago just after he turned seven.”

 

“My God – almost the same age as Gus and the others.  How?”

 

“Well, let’s just say I can maybe see how he went off the deep end after that, even though I’m not condoning what he’s done by any means; seems he was getting ready to take his son to one of his baseball games and didn’t realize he was getting something out of the car’s trunk.  He backed over him in the driveway and killed him accidentally.  Only kid he and his wife ever had; she died a few years ago from cancer.”

 

Brian huffed out a surprised breath.  “Fuck,” he murmured.  He supposed he should try and feel at least a smidgen of sympathy for the man, but he couldn’t.  It might explain why he had lost his mind, but nothing could still justify his killing of all those young, innocent lives – almost his own son’s life, if Justin hadn’t managed to figure out where he was keeping him.  Thoughts of the other man brought up another question. 

 

“Any more on Justin?” he asked softly, the man uppermost in his mind along with his son.  “Is he still coming down to the station today to make a statement?”

 

“As far as I know; he needs to.  To be honest, I’ve been so busy looking into the suspect’s background that I hadn’t really given it much thought with everything else going on.  Because of everything he went through last night, I gave him some leeway in coming in, but he definitely must come in sometime today; I need him to help fill in the missing pieces to all this.”

 

“Surely you don’t think he’s still a possible accomplice, do you?”  Brian didn’t even stop to consider how he was actually defending Justin now; it hadn’t been too long ago that he would lay odds that the blond knew way too much about the killings to not be directly involved somehow.  Things had changed dramatically, though, since last night – since the young artist had been instrumental in saving his only son’s life. 

 

Carl huffed at the irony.  “I wasn’t the skeptical one, remember?” he chided his detective.  “Sounds like you’ve done a 180 on that kid.”

 

He’s not quite a ‘kid’ came unbidden to his mind, as he thought about the fascinating persona known as Justin Taylor.  He brought his attention back to the present as he maintained, “Well, I’m not ready to suggest we hire a full-time psychic to help us solve crimes – I prefer good, old-fashioned grunt work – but I can’t deny that if it hadn’t been for him, I probably would not have found my son in time.  No,” Brian quickly corrected himself.  “I wouldn’t have found him in time, Carl.  If it hadn’t been for Justin, I would be visiting my son in the morgue, not the hospital.”  He choked on the last part of his statement; just the thought of what he might have been confronting this morning after his son had been kidnapped was too painful to even consider.

 

“Yeah,” Carl replied softly as he watched his men begin to remove the crime scene tape from the farmhouse grounds; Carother’s black pickup truck, still holding his metal ladders and roll of plastic sheeting in the bed, was atop a flatbed tow vehicle now, ready to be driven down to the police department to be studied with a fine-tooth comb for further forensic evidence, including bodily fluids.  As if reading his mind, he heard Brian asking another question, his voice barely audible.

 

“Carl… There hasn’t been any evidence of, you know…”

 

“No,” Carl told him firmly, understanding what he was trying to ask.  “Thank God.  No evidence whatsoever of sexual assault on any of the victims, including your son.”

 

Brian let out an anxious breath, realizing how personal the crime had become.  If he could have stayed detached, he would have known that the hospital staff would have already conducted an examination to determine that anyway; for the first time, he realized he was so close to this case that he hadn’t even thought about that.  Nevertheless, he closed his eyes in relief before stating, “Yeah... Good.”  He took a couple of deep breaths to slow his heart rate down before he told his boss, “I’m going to run over to the hospital to check on my son and then I’ll be in shortly.” 

 

“Okay,” Horvath told him, stifling a yawn through the phone.  He hadn’t slept at all since the events broke last night, and knew with the press clambering for information any hope of slumber would be just a distant memory, at least for the next several hours.  He was already resigned to the fact that he would have to schedule a press conference today to at least reassure the public that they were confident the killer had been caught now and would no longer be posing any threat to any other innocent children again.  How much more he would have to disclose was yet to be determined, but he did know one thing:  there was no fucking way he would give away any vital information that may in any way jeopardize their case.  This man wasn’t going anywhere.   “I’m on my way back to the station.  I’m going to have to call the press in to at least partially explain what happened last night and let the public know that we’re confident we’ve apprehended the killer.”

 

Brian bit his lip in thought.  “How much are you going to tell them?”  He was concerned strangely enough over whether Justin’s involvement would have to come to light; if he had had trouble believing in Justin’s unusual talents, he could only imagine the field day the press would have with it.  He knew how preposterous it all sounded, how it would still seem that way if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes last night. 

 

“Just enough to appease them without giving any important information away.  The last thing I want is to run the risk of this fucker recovering and being released on some technicality.  We have to tread carefully here, Brian.”

 

“I agree,” the brunet told his sergeant as he pinched his nose with his fingers to try and release some of his tension and let out a heavy breath.  “What about Justin?  What are you going to say about him?”

 

Carl snorted softly.  “Nothing – at least for now.  They’d tear our account apart if they knew a psychic was partly responsible for helping to find your son and have the killer – alleged killer – arrested.”

 

“Not partly responsible – MAINLY responsible,” Brian corrected him.  “I agree, though – I think his name needs to be kept out of it – at least as long as possible.”  As much as he hated to tell Justin, he knew eventually his role in this whole sordid tale would have to come to light.  He was determined, though, to protect his identity and his role in helping to catch the killer for as long as humanly possible.

 

“Okay… Mainly responsible,” Carl agreed quietly.   “I know how relentless the press is, and they will be even more so about this.  I’ll try to leave his name out of it for as long as possible, but you know eventually his role in all this is going to have to come out.”

 

Brian nodded silently, regretting that Justin would be subjected to such scrutiny; he knew how much the blond despised being the center of attention, especially when it came to his psychic abilities.  But he also knew his testimony in any trial that would occur would be crucial to helping to convict their suspect.   As he thought back to last night’s events and how close his son – as well as Justin – had come to being killed, another thought occurred to him.

 

“Has Carruthers been officially charged yet, Carl?”

 

“Actually, no – but he should be sometime today.  With him in intensive care and critically wounded, obviously he’s not going anywhere.  I decided it was more important we go over the crime scene for evidence first; as soon as the press finds out where the fucker lived, they’ll be hovering all over the place like parasites.  Carruthers should have official charges leveled against him later today, probably before the press gets there so I can verify what he has been charged with and assure the public that we are confident we have our man.”

 

“What about Justin?” Brian inquired.

 

Carl frowned; hadn’t they already covered that subject?  For someone who was so skeptical and cynical of the young man earlier, Kinney was sure devoting a lot of time now to discussing him.  He supposed that having your son’s life in the hands of someone else and having that man be responsible for saving his life would be enough to change any man, including his hardnosed detective.  “What about him?  I told you he’ll be in later today to make his statement.”

 

“No, I mean in regards to Carruthers?  He is going to be charged with attempted murder in addition to the kidnapping, assault and murder charges he’s already facing, isn’t he?  I don’t know how much Justin has told you, Carl, but I saw what happened; the fucker would have shot him at point blank range if I hadn’t beaten him to it first.”  Even now, the image of the other man leveling his gun into his car made his blood run cold.  If Justin had been harmed after being responsible for saving his son’s life…

 

“You bet your ass he’s going to be charged with attempted murder,” Carl assured him sternly.  “By the time he’s charged with everything, there’s no way he’s walking out of that hospital.  And I’m sure the prosecutor will be more than happy to make sure he’s slapped with the highest bond amount possible.”  Carl paused for a few seconds before he remembered what else he needed to tell his detective.  “That reminds me, Brian, when you come in later I’ll not only need your statement regarding last night’s events, but you’ll also have to surrender your weapon until the internal investigation is over.”

 

Brian sighed; he knew that was standard police protocol, but the thought of having to be chained to his desk until the precinct’s investigation was over made him almost sick to his stomach; he hated doing paperwork.  “I know,” he said curtly.  “You’d better hope they finish it sooner rather than later,” he growled.  “I hate being kept on the inside.”

 

Carl chuckled slightly.  “Yeah, believe me, I know.”  Brian had never been involved with actually shooting anyone before, but he had been forced on occasion to spend more time at his desk than he cared for during their annual record audits.  “I promise to spring you just as soon as I can.  At least I won’t have to track you down for your statement later on.”

 

Brian snorted.  “I feel a lot better now.”  He rose from the bed, needing to use the bathroom.  “Have you scheduled a time for the press conference yet?”

 

“Yeah,” Carl told him as he walked toward his police car.  “I scheduled it for 1:00 p.m. – no sense in spoiling my lunch first with the vultures circling.”  He opened his car door, pausing for a second to add, “I really do need to talk with Taylor before the press conference.”

 

Brian nodded to himself.  “I know where he lives,” he told Carl.  “And I know he doesn’t have a car.  I can stop by there and try and pick him up on the way in if you want.”

 

“Good idea – that way I can have both of you here at the same time.  What time do you think you’ll be here?”

 

Brian glanced over at the clock:  7:15 a.m.  “About 9:30?  That should give me enough time to check on Gus and pick Justin up.”   

 

Carl nodded as he sat behind the driver’s seat and closed the door.  “Fine – I’ll see you then.  Oh, and Kinney – remind Taylor not to talk to anyone else about this.  We need to keep this all confidential as long as we can.”

 

“Got it.”  As he disconnected his call, Brian placed the receiver back on its cradle, wondering if he should call Justin first.  He wasn’t sure what his reaction would be to him coming to pick him up.  In addition, knowing what sort of night they all had had, the artist was probably still asleep. 

 

“Fuck it,” Brian said abruptly as he rose from the bed and walked toward the bathroom to take a shower.  He would be there soon enough – it could wait for now.

 

 

An Hour Later – Justin and Daphne’s Apartment Across Town

 

Daphne bit back the groan that threatened to escape her throat; she had been lying awkwardly half on, half off Justin in an unnatural position and her leg was cramping up tremendously.  She didn’t want to wake up Justin, though – he had been so stressed out earlier that once he had fallen asleep, she didn’t have the heart to move even an inch for fear he would wake up again.  Now, though, she had to go use the restroom immediately, fearing her bladder was about to bust, in addition to needing to relieve the stiffness in her leg.

 

Reluctantly, then, she removed her leg from its entangled position with her friend’s and gingerly moved it toward her own body; to her relief, Justin stirred slightly at the action but did not awaken.  She eyed him sympathetically from her side of the bed, knowing how hard everything had been for him lately. She couldn’t really begin to comprehend what he must have been experiencing, but it all paled, though, next to what he told her about the events of last night.  She shook her head slightly, trying to decide if what she thought she had heard from him had merely been just a dream, but she knew instinctively it hadn’t been.  It was written all over her friend’s beautiful but tired looking face and in the exhaustion that had quickly overcome him last night once she had convinced him to go back to bed.  She resisted the temptation to reach out and gently brush Justin’s hair back from his closed eyes, worrying it would wake him up this time; there was just something about her friend that made you want to take care of him, even though he didn’t appreciate the coddling most of the time.  She gazed at him for a few more seconds to make sure he really was still asleep before she quietly turned over and rose from the bed, taking great care to be as unobtrusive as possible.  Opening the bedroom door and then closing it behind her, she managed to successfully reach the bathroom down the hall without disturbing her roommate, listening quietly to make sure Justin hadn’t awakened before she softly closed the bathroom door and turned the shower on.

 

A few minutes later, the sound of someone authoritatively knocking on their apartment door went unnoticed by her as Justin was startled awake out of a surprisingly dreamless sleep.  “Wha…?” he mumbled groggily as he felt his heartbeat start to quicken at the unexpected intrusion.  Who would be pounding on their door this early at…?  He looked over at their alarm clock, noticing it was 8:00 – not exactly the crack of dawn but way too early for a respectable person to be visiting. 

 

Even though he knew the man he had helped lead Brian to last night was no doubt still in the hospital, he still felt trepidation about opening the door.  “Daph…” He started to call out to his friend but as he turned around he noticed that she was no longer lying in the bed; he figured she must either have gone back to her own bed or gotten up to take a shower and get dressed.  Chiding himself for his lack of a backbone, he pulled himself out of bed and walked over to the closed door to open it, noticing the sound was reverberating even louder now.  Whoever was there was certainly not leaving until someone came to the door.

 

“I’m coming!” he said a little perturbed, wondering who in their right mind would be knocking so loudly at this hour.  Plodding over to the door, he paused to listen against the door, jumping when the rapping sounded once more.  This time, though, there was a commanding voice accompanying the action.  “Justin!  Open the door!”

 

Justin’s pulse sped up as he realized who it was.  “Brian?”

 

There was the slightest of pauses as he heard the other man wisecrack, “You want me to slide my badge under the door to prove it, Mighty Kreskin?”

 

Justin couldn’t help smirking despite the horrible night he had had.  Yep, it was Kinney all right.  He reached to push back the latch chain from the door and unlocked the deadbolt to slowly open it.  He lifted his eyes to observe Brian leaning against the door jamb, one hand casually posed above his head and wearing a pair of dark blue denim jeans and a long-sleeved, black shirt; he could see Brian’s badge gleaming from where it hung on his belt.  Even under the unorthodox circumstances, Justin couldn’t help thinking the detective looked tired but still sexy as hell.  For some odd reason, also, as his eyes met the other man’s he felt inexplicably awkward, even shy as the hazel orbs bored into his intently in silence.

 

“Brian.  What are you doing here?  Is Gus…?”

 

Brian worked hard to maintain a nonchalant look on his face as he took in the unexpected sight of a disheveled-looking Justin standing there in nothing but his tight white briefs; did the other man even realize how barely clothed he was or had he not thought about it as he rushed to answer the door?  This was more of the other man’s body than he had ever seen before and it quickly served to cement his previous thought that this was no kid he was dealing with…Even in Justin’s drowsy-looking state, the brunet wasn’t oblivious to the expanse of smooth, alabaster skin exposed, or the sleepy blue eyes and golden, tousled, silky-looking hair.

 

Justin watched as Brian focused his attention on his question and actually smiled in response to what he had asked, hastening to put his mind at ease.  “He’s doing great,” he told him softly to his enormous relief, his eyes never leaving his.  “I just got through calling Lindsay, his mom, to check on him.  She said he’s eating a light breakfast and they’re waiting for the doctor to come in to confirm he can be checked out this morning.”

 

Justin’s brows rose at that statement; this was much more than he had hoped for when he came home last night.  “He’s well enough to go home already?” 

 

Brian nodded.  “Yeah… Doctor said last night when I was at the hospital that his vitals were good and the effects of the chloroform seemed to be wearing off.  Gus had woken up before I left, so that was another positive sign.  I went home for a couple of hours to catch a little shuteye once his moms showed up, but I’m on my way back there now to drop off some clothes for him.”  Since the pajamas Gus had been wearing had been confiscated for evidence, and Mel and Lindsay had rushed to the hospital upon word of Gus being there, his son didn’t have any of his clothes to wear home.  Brian had offered to bring over some spare clothes that his son always kept at his loft just in case of emergencies.  Of course, normally ‘emergencies’ meant something like getting dirty or having a bathroom accident, not something like this.  He shuddered ever so slightly at the thought of it as he turned his attention back to his companion.

 

Justin nodded, suddenly realizing why he felt so cold.  He shivered, partly because of the temperature but also because of the intense look Brian was still giving him.  “Uh… I’m so glad to hear he’s okay,” Justin managed to say, feeling quite undressed as Brian continued to stare at him. He felt tremendously relieved to know for sure, though, that Brian’s son was going to be all right.  He nodded once more with a slight smile as he turned to quietly close the door. “Thanks for stopping by to let me know – I appreciate that.”  He figured Brian must have tried to call earlier to tell him but had been unable to reach him on the phone; not surprising considering how exhausted he had been.

 

“Wait,” Brian said, reaching out to hold the door open before the other man had a chance to close it; he had the distinct impression he was about to be dismissed.  “That’s not all.”

 

Justin arched an eyebrow in question, but didn’t want to stand in the doorway with only his briefs on while he asked for clarification.  He swung the door open a little wider in resignation, figuring it would be best to let him in.  “Come on in – I’ll go grab something to wear.”  Brian followed him in, unable to ignore the perfectly-rounded ass slowly swishing tantalizingly from side to side in front of him as he entered the apartment.  His face flushed slightly at the sight, but he recovered quickly as Justin turned around unexpectedly to ask, “You mind fixing some coffee?  I didn’t sleep well last night and I think I’m going to need the caffeine.”

 

“Uh… Sure.  Where is it?”

 

“Above the stove,” was the reply as Justin walked toward the bedroom to get dressed.  “Filters, too.”

 

Brian watched Justin retreat into the bedroom and swallowed hard, silently berating himself.  His son had almost been killed last night by some fucker lying in a hospital bed and he was letting his dick take over?  Well, he was a cop but he wasn’t dead – there was no denying how attractive the other man was.  But there would hopefully be time later to get to know this intriguing man better – for now there were more important items to attend to.  Brushing his hand through his hair to control himself, he proceeded to locate the coffee and filters, lifting the carafe out to run some cold water in it to prepare it for brewing.

 

A few minutes later, he thought he heard voices down the hall as he sat in a nearby dinette chair waiting for Justin to return, a blue stoneware mug of coffee in his hand.  He looked up as he saw both Justin and his roommate, Daphne, walking into the kitchen.  “Well, if it isn’t the omnipresent Ms. Chanders,” he greeted the grim-looking young woman.  “Coffee?”

 

Daphne glared at the brunet, still not quite sure what to make of the cocky, arrogant cop.  She recalled what Justin had told her last night – or early this morning actually.  How Kinney had changed once he realized how desperate the need to find his son was, and how he had come, literally son’s hat in hand, to beg him to help him.  From what Justin had told her, he had been willing to overlook Brian’s initial cynicism and even downright accusatory posture to help him locate his son.  For that, her friend had literally managed to save the cop’s son’s life.  But was the man sufficiently grateful for what Justin had done?  That remained to be seen – from what she could tell, he was still as smart-alecky and cocky as ever.  “How generous of you,” she curtly replied as she walked over to pour herself a cup into one of the other two mugs lying next to the machine.  “I think I can manage.”  She poured another cup – black – for Justin, reaching over to grab the glass sugar pourer to dole out a couple teaspoons’ worth into his mug.  Swirling a nearby spoon around in it briefly, she turned to walk over to Justin who was standing next to the dinette table to hand his mug to him, pausing for a moment to take a sip out of her own. 

 

“Thanks,” he said softly with a smile and a nod.  He turned a little uncomfortably to look down at Brian who merely silently raised his eyebrows in response.  “You wanted to talk to me?” he asked Brian as he sat down opposite him at the small, laminate kitchen table.  It was some relic from the fifties that he and Daphne had found at the local Goodwill – some hideous thing with a white top and gold specks in it, but it was sufficient for what little time they actually spent eating at the table.  Normally, their ‘meals’ consisted of takeout eaten in front of the tv, their coffee table serving as a makeshift dining table.

 

Brian paused; he hadn’t necessarily planned on Justin’s bodyguard being here when they spoke – he really wanted to talk to Justin privately; after all, it wasn’t every day he tried to express what it meant to have someone save the life of a child you held more dear than your own life and for someone who normally was confident and self-assured, all of a sudden he was finding his mouth feeling like cotton.  “Yeah,” he said finally, matching Daphne’s suspicious gaze unflinchingly before turning to rest his eyes upon Justin.  “Uh… Actually, Horvath asked me to stop by and pick you up on my way into the station – if you don’t mind a pit stop to drop off Gus’s clothes to him.”

 

“Take me to the station?”

 

“What for?” Daphne chimed in before Brian had a chance to explain.  “You’re not saying he’s still a suspect in all this after what he did for you?  Of all the…”

 

“Daphne…”

 

“No,” Brian told her crossly as Daphne placed her free hand on her hip and glared at him from her place at the counter.  “Will you just listen?  No,” he repeated more firmly as he turned to look at Justin.  “He is NOT a suspect; my sergeant needs him to come down and make a statement regarding what happened last night, that’s all.” 

 

He heard the young woman harrumph softly but he ignored it as he stared into Justin’s eyes, needing him to know that there was no doubt left on his part that Justin had had any involvement whatsoever in the killings.  “He just needs to fill in some of the missing pieces of the puzzle – period.”  Brian licked his lips a little nervously as he added, “I should tell you, though, there’s a press conference scheduled for 1:00 today.  We’re going to have to at least tell the press that we’re confident we have the killer apprehended now… thanks to you.”

 

Justin flushed slightly at the unexpected softness and sincerity in Brian’s voice.  “I… I just wish I could have helped save some of the others, too,” he softly replied. 

 

Brian had this strong urge to reach out and grasp Justin’s hand comfortingly, but found he couldn’t do it with the other man’s roommate’s eyes boring into him.  “I know,” he whispered back.  “But you did save Gus.  I’ll be forever grateful for that, Justin.”

 

Justin’s eyes widened slightly at the sound of his name that rolled smoothly off the other man’s lips.  He slowly lifted his gaze to peer into Brian’s eyes that were focused on him so intently.  Not trusting his voice – or the feelings being portrayed in his eyes – he looked down and merely nodded. 

 

“Is Justin’s name going to be brought up during that press conference, Detective Kinney?” Daphne pressed as she remained rooted to her spot. 

 

“Of course not,” Brian retorted a little more harshly than he had planned; he admired the young woman for her protectiveness toward Justin, but her distrust and suspicion of him was starting to grate on his nerves.  “The press conference is just to give out some rudimentary information to reassure the public that we are sure the killer has finally been caught and they don’t have to worry about him being on the loose any longer.  My sergeant has no intention of throwing Justin’s name out there as the object of a witch hunt.”

 

“But what about later, Brian?” Justin pressed from across the table, his heart sinking at the thought of his role in this whole tale being disclosed.  “Will I have to be involved with the case if it goes to trial?”

 

Brian let out a breath, seeking to reassure Justin.  But it was difficult; truthfully, if Carruthers did manage to survive his injuries, Justin would be forced to testify – there would be no way around it because he was the ultimate, key link to finding the man in the first place.  He knew how much Justin would dread doing that, though.  He started to reply but then realized something as he looked over at Daphne briefly before asking Justin, “How much does she know?”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

How much does your roommate know, Justin?”

 

Justin frowned.  “Well, she is my roommate,” he replied a little hesitantly.  “She knew about my nightmares and other visions before you and Sergeant Horvath even did.  She knows as much as I do.”

 

Brian winced; that was what he was afraid of.  He looked into Daphne’s eyes as he curtly stated, “Well, this can’t go beyond this room.  You already know much more than you should.  If any of this information gets out prematurely, there is a definitely risk of jeopardizing our case against Carruthers.”

 

“Carruthers?” Justin repeated, hearing the name for the first time.

 

Brian hesitated; not only did Justin’s roommate know much too much already, but if she stuck around any longer, she would learn even more.  “Look,” he said, glancing over at the young woman.  “I think Justin has a right to know what’s going on, but frankly, it’s in your best interests if you don’t.  Now either I’ll have to wait until we get down to the police station so my sergeant can fill him in, or you’ll have to excuse us so I can talk to him in private.  Believe me – it’s for your own good; the less you know about all this, the better off you are.  The last thing you want is for the press to get wind that you have confidential details regarding the killer and you will not get a second’s peace – and neither will Justin.”

 

“Fuck,” Justin said under his breath; the last thing he wanted was even more attention.  He turned somewhat apologetically to his roommate.  “Daphne… Brian’s right; I don’t want you to get sucked into this, too.  Maybe you’re better off not knowing anymore.  You DO understand, don’t you?”  He felt terrible at the flicker of hurt that crossed his best friend’s face, but he didn’t want her being harassed at his expense. 

 

“I suppose,” she finally said a little stiffly as she took another gulp of her coffee and abruptly placed it down a little too roughly on the countertop; some of the remaining now-lukewarm liquid sloshed out of the cup and landed next to it on the slightly-scratched surface.  “I think I’ll walk down to the bagel shop and grab some breakfast; want me to bring you couple of blueberry ones back?” 

 

Justin shook his head.  “No, thanks.  Something tells me I won’t be here very long.”  As much as he hated the idea of going back down to the police station, he knew it was inevitable.  There was no way after what happened last night that he could avoid making a statement regarding it; he knew Horvath had gone against normal protocol in allowing him to wait until today anyway.

 

He stood up as Daphne turned to go, walking over to stand next to her.  “Don’t be mad,” he beseeched.  “I don’t want you being dragged into this any more than necessary.”  He reached over to grasp her sleeve, silently pleading with her for understanding.  He let out a relieved breath as he noticed her features softening just a bit.

 

“Yeah…,” she said at last with a crooked, wistful smile.  “I know – I’m not mad,” she assured him.  She glanced over at Brian intently before adding for Justin’s sake, “I know you have my best interests at heart; I just hope HE does, too, when it comes to you.”  She reached in her jeans pocket to pull out her apartment key, impulsively leaning over to give her roommate a quick kiss on the cheek.  “I’ll see you later then?”

 

Justin nodded.  “Yeah, but I’m not sure when,” he told her.  “I’ll call you when I’m ready to come back here in case you want me to stop and pick up something for later.  I…guess I’ll be taking the bus back.”

 

“No, you won’t,” Brian instantly supplied.  “I’m driving you down and I’ll see that you get driven back.”

 

Justin nodded as Daphne turned to go.  “I’ll be fine, don’t worry,” he assured her.  She nodded once before Justin released her arm and she walked over to the door to go.  Just before she turned the knob, she turned around to stare into Brian’s eyes.  “Take good care of him, Kinney,” she warned.  With one more glance at her friend, she opened the door and left, closing it firmly behind her.

 

“I thought they outlawed pit bulls within the city limits,” was the dry response once Daphne had disappeared out of sight.

 

Justin bristled, his blue eyes flashing indignantly.  “She’s just trying to watch out for me,” he told Brian.  “She’s a very loyal friend.  She’s always supported me in whatever I did and has never doubted me.”  The unspoken words that weren’t said aloud reverberated clearly in Brian’s ears nonetheless.  Unlike you… If your own son hadn’t been in jeopardy, would you have EVER believed me?

 

Brian sighed.  Taking a chance, he fulfilled his previous intention by reaching across the table to clasp his hand over Justin’s free one; as their hands touched and he curled his fingers around the pale flesh, it was as if an electric shock rushed through him.  He lifted his gaze to stare over at Justin, seeing the same sort of expression of wonder on the beautiful blond’s face as well, clearly telling him that he had felt the same sort of explosive jolt that he had.  He could sense Justin trying to pull his hand away, but that only made him tighten his grip on him more.  He found the feeling of his hand in his both oddly exhilarating and scary as hell as he felt the warmth lying there.

 

“I didn’t mean to get her dander up,” Brian told the other man softly.  “I actually respect her for trying to protect you.  She’s known you a lot longer than I have, though, and I’m a cop, Justin – I’m trained to go by what I can see and examine, not by intangibles.  Surely you can understand how your story sounded so totally implausible to me initially.”

 

Justin felt his face growing hot as Brian began to almost unknowingly caress his hand with his thumb; it made his insides do all sort of crazy flip-flops as he struggled to concentrate on what the detective was saying.  “I… I guess I do,” he finally conceded softly.  “I know it sounds pretty outlandish to most people.”  He snorted.  “It still seems pretty outrageous to me, too.” 

 

Brian continued to slowly rub his thumb across Justin’s skin, relishing in the softness he found there.  “Well, I’m a believer now,” he told him as he stared into the cerulean eyes.  “There’s no doubt in my mind that you saved my son’s life, Justin.  I will never be able to repay you for that.”

 

Justin had to look away from the intense look in Brian’s eyes; there could be no doubt as to his sincerity now.  It reminded him of the same sort of open, exposed look that Brian had given him last night when he had shown up on his doorstep, clutching his son’s baseball cap in his hands as he had pleaded with him to help find him.  “I’m… I’m just glad he’s okay, Brian,” he finally managed to whisper as he stared over at the living room windows, trying to ignore the sensations coursing through him at the moment.  “That’s payment enough.”

 

“Yeah,” he heard Brian reply softly.  “He’s more than okay.  He’s great.”

 

Justin turned to stare into the smiling, grateful face of his companion and couldn’t help smiling back in return as he nodded. 

 

The moment broken for now, Brian reluctantly let go of Justin’s hand, almost grieving the loss of warmth he swore he could still feel on his skin.  His face sobered as he advised the other man, “I’ll be honest with you, Justin.  Before Daphne left you asked if you would have to testify if the suspect’s case went to trial.”  As Justin nodded, he told him, “I won’t lie to you – there’s a good possibility that might happen; in fact, I can pretty much guarantee that would be the case.  Your involvement has been too critical not to expect that you wouldn’t have to testify.”

 

Justin’s face clouded over.  “I… I don’t know if I could do that,” he confessed.  “Have my ‘gift’ exposed – and ridiculed – by everyone in the courtroom and in the press?”  He laughed derisively.  “I know a lot of people who would love that.”  Hobbs and his own father would no doubt be battling for first place in line…

 

“It may not come to that,” Brian hastened to assure him, wanting badly to reach over and grasp his hand again for comfort but forcing himself not to.  “For one thing, Carruthers is in extremely critical condition; there’s a good chance he may not survive his injuries.”

 

Brian hesitated, wondering how much to divulge.  Horvath hadn’t quite prohibited him from revealing additional information to Justin, even though typically it was taboo, especially in such tricky cases as this.  He knew how critical it was that only a few people truly knew the details surrounding the killings, and the least amount of people that knew the better.  But it wasn’t as if Justin was an outsider; he was as involved with the case as anyone else, maybe even more so.  Making an independent decision, then, he stated, “That’s the name of the suspect that was holding Gus last night.  He’s the son of a former cop.”

 

Justin’s eyes became big as saucers.  “Shit.  A cop’s son?”

 

Brian nodded.  “Yeah… And not just a cop – a police chief with the same name – guy died about ten years ago, though.”

 

Justin shook his head in stunned disbelief.  “Fuck.  I don’t believe it.  Why?  How?”  He had all sorts of questions rushing through his mind; he wasn’t even sure where to start.  “How does a cop’s son wind up being a child killer?”

 

“Good question.  Carl did find out the man had a son by the same name – went by Tommy, actually.  Kid was seven when Carruthers accidentally ran over him with his car in the driveway about a year ago.  I’m sure that’s what eventually drove him over the fucking deep edge.”

 

Justin brushed one hand through his hair restlessly, his quickly-cooling coffee promptly forgotten in light of Brian’s unbelievable disclosure to him.  “He accidentally killed his own child?”

 

“Yeah,” Brian told him tersely.  “Only child he had from what Carl told me, too.  I think that explains why he turned into such a psycho.”

 

Justin stared into Brian’s angry-looking eyes.  “It might explain a lot,” Justin agreed.  “But other parents have accidentally killed their own children and not gone out and killed others in response,” he pointed out.

 

Brian nodded, his lips tightly set together.  “My thoughts exactly,” he agreed.  “But that doesn’t mean if the fucker recovers that his attorney won’t go after an insanity defense; in fact, with the evidence the boys found upstairs in one of the bedrooms, it’s likely to be the guy’s only defense.”

 

“Evidence?”

 

“There was an old trunk up there in one of the back bedrooms – had all kinds of boys’ clothing in it, no doubt belonging to the victims.”  He jaw set, he told Justin quietly, “Monster even had Gus’s clothes in there.”  He let out a heavy breath.  “Carruthers thought he had another one dead and gone when he kidnapped my son,” he said, his voice tight with anger.  He swallowed hard before looking into Justin’s eyes.  “He almost did, too – but he didn’t reckon on you entering the picture.”

 

Justin flushed again at the pointed look in Brian’s eyes as his own eyes filled with tears over the thought of so many other innocent boys’ lives that had been lost.  “I just wish I could have stopped him from killing any of them,” he whispered painfully, hanging his head in sorrow.  “A lot of good this ability did me.”  He raised his gaze to look over at Brian, however, as he felt the other man’s hand on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze.

 

“I know,” Brian told him, his eyes boring into his.  “We all wished that.  But don’t ever forget that you did save one very important life; my son’s.”

 

Justin nodded silently, considering the unbelievable bit of information that Brian had just told him.  Unfortunately, now that he knew the suspected killer was the son of a former police chief, that made him even more anxious not to testify.  “Would it be awful to hope that the man does die?” he wondered aloud.  He covered his hands with his face as he closed his eyes.  “I just don’t know if I could stand up and testify against someone like that - especially knowing he’ll be there staring back at me while I do it.”

 

“Hey,” Brian said softly.  “We don’t even know if it will come to that, okay?  Don’t worry about things that might not even come to pass.” 

 

Justin uncovered his eyes and opened them as he heard a chair scraping.  He watched as Brian stood up.

 

“It’s getting late,” Brian told him.  “And I still have to stop by the hospital to check on Gus and drop his clothes off.  I think we’d better go; I’m sure the last thing you want is to be hanging around the police station when the media shows up this afternoon for the press conference.”  He huffed out a disgusted breath.  “It’s going to be a fucking circus, especially once they find out we have the killer in custody.”  He looked over at Justin, who was eyeing him silently.  He knew this wasn’t going to be easy on him for a number of reasons.  “Don’t worry – Carl won’t divulge anything about you.  He’s just going to give out some preliminary information and reassure the public that they don’t have to worry about this maniac running around the Pitts anymore.”  What he didn’t tell Justin, though, was that he thought it was just a matter of time before his role in this whole sordid tale came out; when it did, it was quite likely he wouldn’t get a moment’s peace – not that he had up until now, either.  He noticed Justin looking at him warily, sort of a cross between wanting to believe him and knowing it was hogwash.  His suspicions were confirmed when Justin stood up and addressed him.

 

“It’s still going to come out though… Isn’t it?” he asked softly, biting his lower lip apprehensively.  “Brian?” he pressed when the brunet remained uncharacteristically silent.

 

Brian sighed.  “Probably,” he admitted.  “Knowing the press – especially the type that hang out down at the precinct like a vampire smelling blood, yeah, I would say that’s a safe bet.”  He noticed Justin’s crestfallen-looking face.  “I’m sorry,” he said, typically not one to spout polite niceties but feeling like he owed this man the truth.  And the truth was that he was sorry.  He was sorry that Justin’s persistence in trying to help – eventually culminating in him saving Gus’s life – was going to be rewarded with the one thing the young man didn’t want – more focus and skepticism on his unique abilities, talents that he never apparently wanted nor welcomed.  “Your art should be what’s bringing you attention – not this.”

 

Justin was surprised somewhat by that last statement; it was really the first time he could recall Brian ever commenting on the quality of his art.  Before his focus had been mainly on the subject matter, although that was certainly understandable in light of what had been happening for the past several weeks.  It made him feel a little better, though, to know that Brian apparently thought he was a good artist.

 

“Thanks,” he said softly, almost in embarrassment at all the attention he was receiving all of a sudden.  Just wait, he thought to himself anxiously.  This will be nothing compared to later…

 

“Ready?” Brian asked him quietly, noticing the uneasy look in Justin’s eyes. 

 

Justin stared into his strong, resolute face; somehow it made him feel a little less anxious just looking at the determination portrayed there.  He nodded.  “Yeah,” he told him.  “Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.”

 

A few minutes later, he followed Brian out the front door, quietly closing it behind him.

 

 

The first several minutes in Brian’s car were clothed in relative silence, only the low-volume sound of some sort of rock station being heard from the stereo intruding upon the interior of the car.  As he pulled up at a red light, Brian stole a glance over at the blond, noticing his eyes closed as he laid his head back against the headrest.  He broke the silence by softly murmuring, “Didn’t get much sleep last night, either, huh?”

 

Justin turned his head as his eyes fluttered open, verifying he hadn’t fallen asleep but was simply resting.  “No,” he admitted.  “Maybe a couple hours at most.”

 

Brian nodded as the light turned green and he stepped on the accelerator pedal.  “I figured as much; you look pretty exhausted.”  He glanced over once more at Justin before returning his attention to the road again.  “I was hoping after Carruthers was caught last night and we found my son that you might be able to sleep a little better afterward.  I guess someone trying to kill you might interfere with that goal, though,” he added dryly. 

 

He was rewarded with just the hint of a smile.  “Yeah, that might have had a bearing on it,” Justin admitted as he turned his head to stare out the windshield.  He let out what sounded like a plaintive sigh, dreading what was probably ahead for him but knowing he had no choice in the matter; there was no way he was going to take a chance that this Carruthers, no matter how insane he might be, might get off scot free because he was reluctant to call attention to himself. 

 

“You know,” he heard Brian say as he turned his head to look at his profile, unable to refrain from noticing how handsome the detective was in a classic sort of way; strong chin, angular jaw, long eyelashes that covered the startling hazel eyes that were looking at the road presently.  “I would have stayed around last night to make sure you were okay… If it hadn’t been for my son.”  Brian wasn’t sure why, but he felt it was important to make sure Justin knew he hadn’t intentionally abandoned him after he had come close to being shot; he knew anyone would have been spooked by what had happened, but he had an idea that it had probably impacted Justin even more strongly.  He didn’t really know Justin all that well, and they had certainly met under less than ideal circumstances.  But he thought he had seen and heard enough by now to know that Justin felt whatever happened to him deeply; he could only imagine how much the deaths of all those innocent little boys must have affected him, having bits of pieces of it played back in your mind, day and night.  At least the man had had the foresight – and the skill – to draw on paper what he had seen.  It hadn’t quite been the key to finding the fucker – Justin had managed to do that himself – but it had helped propel them to the point at which they were now. 

 

“I know,” he heard Justin say softly as the two locked gazes on each other.  He watched Justin turn his head away almost in embarrassment at being the center of attention again.  “I wouldn’t have expected anything less from someone whose son was in danger.  I would have insisted you go even if you hadn’t.”

 

Brian’s lips twisted into a gesture of respect at the other man’s response as he turned his eyes back to the road.  “You know… In hindsight, it took a lot of courage for you to come forward with those drawings, realizing it would probably cast suspicion on your role if you did.”

 

He looked over at Justin, observing a surprised expression on his face.  “I mean it,” he said softly as Justin stared back at him dumbfounded.  “Don’t look too surprised,” he tried to tease.  “Even I’m capable of changing my mind – on rare occasions.”  He shook his head.  “Although I never thought I would ever take a clairvoyant seriously.  The only one I can remember – besides the Mighty Kreskin, of course – was that lady on television who was always trying to get some more schmucks to call in and waste two bucks a minute on her bullshit predictions.”  He wracked his brain to try and come up with the turbaned woman who always urged callers to phone in with their innermost wishes and dreams so she could reassure them that they would live happily ever after.  “Clara?  Clarice?”  No, that was the woman from Silence of the Lambs…

 

Justin laughed, a giggly, almost tinkling type of laugh that Brian found oddly intriguing as he shook his head at him and volunteered the correct name. “Cleo.” 

 

Brian snorted.  “I should have figured you would know it.  She’s not a relative of yours, is she?” he asked, trying to lighten the tension just a bit; he knew Justin must be fretting over having to relive everything that had happened last night.  He figured he owed at least that much to him. 

 

“No,” Justin told him with a smile before Brian noticed his sobering expression. 

 

“What?” the detective asked prodded gently.  “I was just kidding.”

 

Justin shook his head slightly.  “It’s not that.  It’s just that’s the problem, Brian.  Every time the subject is brought up everyone thinks the person is a phony and a quack.  Can you understand now why I never wanted anyone to know about it and how hard it was for me to come down to the police station?  Can you?”

 

“Yeah,” Brian told him softly as he kept moving his eyes from the road over to his passenger.  “Yeah, I’m beginning to understand a lot now.” 

 

Justin felt his face warm at the intense look Brian was giving him again as he smiled a little self-consciously and deliberately turned his head toward the passenger window, placing his right hand against the glass in an attempt to offset the heat permeating his body with the coolness under his touch.  He didn’t quite know what to make of this other man; initially he had disliked him for his cynicism, suspicion, arrogance and overabundance of self-confidence.  He thought Brian was overbearing, narrow-minded, and distrustful of everything involving him.  But now – when the other man gave him a certain look – it made him at once both uneasy and excited in a forbidden sort of way.  Now that Brian had begun to actually believe in the powers that he had claimed – and now that his son was safely out of danger – it was as if the other man was seeing him in a different light.  Strangely enough, he was finding that idea attractive.  He was finding him attractive… He coughed, trying to force himself to turn his attention away from that dangerous path. 

 

“Too cold?” He heard Brian ask him curiously as he turned and watched him reach for the air conditioner controls.

 

“No,” Justin hastened to tell him as their eyes met once more.  “I’m fine – just had something in my throat.” 

 

Brian nodded as he turned his eyes to the road, wondering why he had never noticed how blue Justin’s eyes were; perhaps before he had been so caught up in trying to catch the killer and finding every way he could to distrust the other man he hadn’t taken the time to notice.  Now that the killer had been apprehended, though, and his son was safely out of harm’s way, he was finding that he was noticing a lot of things about this other man.  He chided himself silently as his pulse quickened – what was going on here?  He didn’t really even know this other man.  Did he want to?  Did you, Kinney?

He was spared having to answer that question when he noticed they were almost at the hospital; as he turned the car to the right to enter the parking lot, he slowed down to retrieve the charge ticket.  As he waited for the machine to spit it out, he turned to Justin to advise, “This shouldn’t take too long.  I just want to drop off Gus’s clothes and make sure he’s still doing okay.  Then we can move onto the police station.  I’m sure you’re anxious to get your statement over with and get the hell out of there before the press swarms in later.”

 

Justin nodded.  “That’s for sure.”  As Brian reached to retrieve the ticket and proceeded into the parking garage, Justin told him, “I’ll just wait here in the car then.”

 

Brian pulled into a nearby parking spot at the end of the first row and stopped the car.  As he shut off the engine, he turned to Justin and shook his head.  “No, I’d like for you to come in with me.”

 

Justin frowned, suddenly a little nervous.  “Why?  Surely you don’t think I’m in danger or anything.” 

 

Brian smirked.  “No… I think you’re been watching too many black and white detective shows, Taylor.  I want you to come in and meet Gus’s moms – and especially Gus.”

 

Justin was taken aback by that statement, suddenly feeling uncomfortable.  He didn’t even know those women – what would they think about Brian dragging some stranger into their son’s hospital room?  “No… I don’t want to intrude,” he mumbled in embarrassment.

 

Brian sighed.  “Intrude?  Shit, Justin!  You saved Gus’s life!  Mel and Lindsay know about you already, anyway; I told them last night.”

 

Justin’s eyes widened.  “You did?  Why?  They must think I’m a real kook.”

 

Brian curled his lips under in what Justin thought was an endearing way.  “Well, I admit they were a little skeptical when I told them how you had helped me locate him.   But so was I at first, if you recall.”

 

Justin twisted his mouth into a wry expression.  “Yeah, I think it’s coming back to me.  What did they say?”

 

“They were pretty skeptical of what I told them at first,” he conceded, “but I think I convinced them that you were the real deal.  And besides, I want you to meet my son.  I want you to see what you saved for me.”

 

Justin had to admit as he stared at Brian that he was amazed at this side of him.  When he talked about his son it was as if a whole different person emerged.  “You really want me to come in?” he asked, needing reassurance still.

 

“Yeah,” Brian told him softly as he stared into his eyes intensely with that ‘look’ again that made Justin’s insides do flip-flops.  “I really do.”  He reached for the door handle and unlatched his seatbelt to get out.  As he emerged from the car, he leaned into the driver’s side and looked over at Justin, who was still sitting in the passenger seat undecided.  “Come on,” he urged.  “No arguments; you’re coming in with me.” He reached into the backseat to retrieve a small plastic bag with his son’s clothes in it before shutting the door.

 

Justin knew from the sound of Brian’s voice that he wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Still feeling a little self-conscious as if he were intruding on a personal family moment, he nonetheless unfastened his own seatbelt and opened the car door to get out.  He closed the door and walked around the car to join Brian, who surprisingly placed his hand lightly around Justin’s upper back as if in gentle encouragement.  Silently the two of them walked toward the hospital entrance side by side, Justin feeling the heat of Brian’s hand even through the cotton of his long-sleeve tee shirt.

 

As they entered the hospital, Brian dropped his light hold on him and he found himself disappointed at the loss.  Soon, though, they entered the elevator and his pulse quickened at the thought of coming face to face with the mothers of Brian’s son.  Despite what Brian had said, would they resent him being there?  Would they wonder what he was even doing here? 

 

“Stop it,” he unexpectedly heard Brian say in the deserted elevator car.  As he glanced up into the other man’s eyes, Brian said, “You don’t have anything to be nervous about.  They’re grateful for what you did – you’ll see.”

 

Justin eyed him warily, not totally convinced of Brian’s conviction.   A few seconds later, though, the chime sounded signifying they were reaching the second floor where Gus’s room was located and he knew he couldn’t back out now even if he wanted to.  Brian again placed his hand on Justin’s back reassuringly as he gently pushed him toward the left as they turned and walked down the hallway.  Justin could heard the typical whirring sounds of various hospital machines, as well as the murmuring of numerous voices as they passed by several rooms until they reached No. 247.  He hung back a little as Brian slowed down at the door, the brunet glancing over at him in amusement as well as sympathy.  “Come on, it’s all right,” he reassured him as he took hold of Justin’s elbow and gently prodded him into the room with him.

 

As they entered the fairly spacious private room, Justin recognized the same two women – one blond, one brunette – sitting on either side of Gus’s bed that he had noticed at the boy’s playground the other day.  He observed to his extreme pleasure as well as relief that their child – Brian’s son – was sitting up in bed drinking from a gold-colored plastic cup.  He looked amazing to Justin, considering the peril he had been in last night.  His face was a golden bronze color – much like his father’s – and his cheeks were nice and rosy, reflecting signs of robust health.  His eyes appeared to be darker than Brian’s, but even if he hadn’t seen a photo of him in the detective’s office, he would have noticed the similarities quite readily.  He felt a weight he didn’t even realize he was carrying quickly lifting from his shoulders as he drank in the sight of this healthy-looking little boy peering over at him curiously.

 

As Gus’s eyes lit upon his father, though, his face broke out into a radiant smile.  “Daddy!” the little boy cried out in pleasure as he quickly placed his cup down on the nearby hospital table and held both hands out toward his father.

 

Justin watched in amazement as Brian was instantly transformed; his entire body relaxed and his face mirrored his son’s as he flashed a beaming smile back at the little, brown-haired boy – one that could only be interpreted as a proud father’s – and placed the plastic bag down containing Gus’s change of clothing on a nearby chair so he could rush over to give his son a fierce hug for several seconds.  Justin stood just inside the room, shuffling his feet slightly and feeling extremely hesitant to intrude as Brian held his son tightly and the two mothers sized him up quietly from afar. 

 

Brian released his son with a soft grunt, noticing the two women staring at Justin behind him.  Turning to look at him, he walked over to take his elbow once more and gently push him further into the room.  “Gus… There’s someone very special I’d like for you to meet.  This is Justin.  Justin, this is my son, Gus.” 

 

Justin couldn’t help smiling at the little boy looking at him a little bashfully.  Until he was given this chance to actually gaze upon Brian’s son, it was as if he had been afraid to totally believe that he truly was all right, that he really did have a hand in helping to save him.  “You don’t know how glad I am to meet you, Gus,” he said in a choked voice, almost overcome with emotion.  He glanced up at Brian, finding the detective’s eyes wet with the threat of tears as he locked gazes with him, both seemingly thinking the same thing; that there had been a time when both of them thought this would never happen.  Justin was suddenly quite grateful that Brian had insisted he accompany him into the hospital now, because at that moment he knew it was real – he knew Gus really was okay, and that he had been instrumental in that accomplishment.  He didn’t know if it would make his nightmares any less frequent, but somehow he suspected it just might.  For once, his unwelcome ‘gift’ had actually done some good; it had been his wish since he had been a child to have some good come out of his power, but he had never been able to make that happen.  Only now had he finally been able to see his wish fulfilled and it felt wonderful.

 

Gus turned his head shyly away from Justin as the blond smiled at him in understanding.  He licked his lips nervously, though, as he noticed the two women still staring at him, wondering what they were thinking.

 

“Justin, this is Lindsay,” Brian told him, nodding his head toward the blonde-haired woman sitting beside them, “and this is her partner, Mel,” he added, indicating the dark-haired woman on the other side of the bed.  “Ladies, this is Justin Taylor, the man I told you about last night.”

 

Justin didn’t know what to expect, but he watched as the blonde – Lindsay – rose from her seat and unexpectedly reached over to sweep him up into her arms for a hug, wrapping her arms tightly around him for several seconds to the point that he feared his circulation would be cut off.  This was definitely not the reaction he had anticipated, but it beat the icy, cold, disbelieving stares he figured he would get.

 

As Lindsay pulled back, he noticed tears in her eyes as well.  “I… We don’t know how to thank you,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper as she gazed into Justin’s eyes.  “I don’t presume to know how you did what you did, or even understand how you do it, but Brian told us that if it hadn’t been for you, he’s convinced he wouldn’t have found Gus in time.  We’ll never be able to repay you for that.”  There was just something about the sincerity and humbleness on Justin’s face that made her reach down and impulsively kiss him on the cheek. 

 

Justin’s eyes widened as she pulled back; yes, this was definitely not the reaction he had expected, but he was relieved that she apparently was able to accept that he really did have some sort of clairvoyant skill.  He swallowed the lump in his throat at her heartfelt words, feeling unexpectedly awkward once more at the lavish attention being bestowed upon him as he heard the other woman – Mel – speak now.

 

“I want to echo her words, Justin,” Mel told him more formally as Lindsay let go of him and he turned to look over at her.  “I don’t know how you did what you did, but I don’t care; the result is that you helped save our son’s life, and that’s something we’ll never forget.  You’re officially appointed Gus’s guardian angel from now on.”

 

Justin flushed at the compliment; no one had ever been grateful to him for his ‘gift.’  Before he had only been the subject of unwanted stares and derision for what others saw as some sideshow trick.  “I… I’m just glad I could help,” he said humbly as he nodded.

 

He felt Brian’s hand once more slide around his waist to steady him as he leaned in to stage whisper in his ear, “Mel’s the attorney in the family,” in explanation of his new title as guardian angel.  Brian turned to Lindsey to ask, “Is Gus still being discharged this morning?”

 

“Yeah,” Lindsay verified with a smile.  “The doctor said he can go home in a couple of hours, isn’t that great?”

 

Brian nodded with a smile of his own as he looked over at Gus.  “It sure is,” he replied, reaching over with his free hand to affectionately ruffle his son’s hair.  “It’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time.” 

 

“Daddy?”

 

“Yeah, Sonny Boy?”

 

“Don’t forget our baseball game this time,” the boy scolded him as he raised one chubby little hand toward his father. 

 

Brian chuckled, a sort of guffaw that Justin found intriguing.  He didn’t think he had ever heard Brian laugh before and it almost startled him.  Catching himself, he watched in rapt fascination as father and son conducted their conversation, noticing how animated Brian’s face became as he spoke to Gus.  The difference between the cynical, no-holds-barred detective and this loving father was simply amazing. 

 

“I won’t,” Brian was saying to his son.  “Why don’t you come over Friday and spend the night with me?  That way we can go out for breakfast before the doubleheader.”

 

“Yay!” Gus shouted in excitement, turning to Lindsay.  Can I, Mommy?  Please?”  He batted unusually long, dark eyelashes at his mother, his doe-eyes pleading for agreement.  Justin couldn’t help thinking that no human could possibly say no to a look like that, and in this case he was right as Lindsay simply smiled at her son and nodded.

 

“Okay, Honey,” she agreed as she looked over at Mel, who shrugged slightly but then gave a short nod.  “We’ll drop you off at your Dad’s Friday night before the game.  Let us know what time, okay?” she said to Brian.

 

“I will,” Brian told her.  He looked over at his son once more as if he wanted to verify that he really was okay and he wasn’t going to wake up to find that he had merely been dreaming it before he said, “We have to get going now – Justin needs to come down to the station to make his statement about last night and so do I.  I want to get him out of there before the press conference this afternoon.”

 

Lindsay looked over at Justin, who was bouncing lightly on his feet; she didn’t know him well at all, but it didn’t take an expert to realize that he was apparently dreading what he was about to do.  “Sergeant Horvath’s not going to talk about him during the press conference, is he?”  She had an idea that Justin didn’t crave the spotlight; rather, she had a feeling from his posture that he didn’t want any focus on him at all.

 

“No,” Brian assured her.  “He certainly is not; in fact, he’s only going to give them as much information as he has to, mainly to reassure the public that the killer has been caught.  Justin’s name – or his involvement – won’t factor into it.”  At least not yet, he again found himself thinking.  He knew that wouldn’t be the case for long, though, but he didn’t want Justin to be worried about that just yet. 

 

“Who is this man they caught, Brian?” Lindsay asked him.  “Have you found out anymore about him?  Why he did what he did to those children?”  She reached over to brush some hair back from Gus’s face, needing to touch her son to prove to herself once more that he, out of all the other children, had been the lucky one that had been spared, that they had been the lucky ones.  And all because of this petite, slender, blond-haired young man fidgeting rather restlessly beside her friend.

 

“Carl knows some more about him,” Brian answered rather mysteriously as he glanced over at Justin and they shared an indecipherable look.  “I’m sorry,” he said apologetically.  “But right now it’s all on a need-to-know basis.  The least amount of people who know the back story right now, the better.  We don’t want anything to possibly jeopardize this case.”

 

Mel nodded, her mouth set in a tight line.  “I agree totally; I don’t want anything running the risk of this bastard not getting precisely what he deserves.” 

 

Lindsay pursed her lips together, extremely curious but realizing Mel was right.  She nodded.  “I understand,” she told Brian.  “And I trust that you will do whatever it takes to make sure this man is put on trial for what he did.”

 

Justin felt Brian’s grip on his waist tighten imperceptibly as he responded, "You can count on it.  Personally I’m hoping the fuc… uh, monster saves us all the trouble and just dies from his injuries.”

 

“Is his condition that critical?” Mel asked him.

 

Brian nodded.  “Yeah… I guess I CAN tell you that much; according to Carl, he’s in extremely critical condition at the hospital and is heavily sedated.  They’re not sure if he’s going to make it or not.  Part of me just wishes that would happen and part of me doesn’t; I think there’s a lot of parents who want him to go to trial so they can find out why he did what he did to their children.”  Brian, of course, already knew the probable reason why – the man was loony as hell – and he also knew that would be little consolation to all the grieving parents that were feeling such a profound loss over the murder of their children; at least due to Justin’s intervention, he wouldn’t have to place himself in that role.   

 

He turned to look down into Justin’s soft, blue eyes.  “Ready to go?”

 

Justin nodded, sort of relieved to be leaving since that meant he could at least temporarily fade back into the background and out of sight.  Something told him that would only be a brief respite, however, from what might be coming.  “Yeah,” he told Brian softly.  “I’m ready.”  He turned to the two women, his cultured background arising as he almost automatically responded, “It was nice to meet you.”  He turned to look into a pair of curious brown eyes as he smiled warmly and added, “And it was really nice to meet YOU, Gus.”

 

Gus smiled a little shyly at him as Lindsay asked her son, “Can you say goodbye to Justin, Gus?”

 

“Bye, Jus’n,” Gus softly said, his voice barely audible.  He briefly raised one little hand in a sort of half-royal wave as he turned to reach over toward his glass to take another sip of his apple juice from the straw inside.

 

“Bye, Little Man,” Brian said with a smile to his son.  “I’ll see you on Friday, okay?  And Daddy will have a brand new baseball cap for you to wear to the games on Saturday.”  He knew he would have to relinquish the other cap to the forensics team at the police station; that was all right with him, though; after last night he didn’t want anything else to do with that particular hat.  A brand new hat was just fine with him.

 

Gus’s lips curled up into a delighted smile as he continued to slurp through his straw as Brian laughed softly.  “I’ll see you then, Sonny Boy,” he told his son as they turned to go.  “I’ll call you,” he told Lindsay as the two men turned to walk away.

 

“Justin,” Lindsay called out as the blond turned to go.  The two men stopped in their tracks as Justin turned around to peer into her eyes.

 

“Yes?” he asked.

 

“Thanks again,” she told him.  “You’ll never know what it means to us.”

 

Justin nodded silently at both women as they quietly turned to leave, Brian’s arm lightly wrapped around his waist once more as they disappeared out of sight.

 

 

As they entered the elevator a few minutes later, Justin leaned against the back of the wall and closed his eyes. 

 

“Worried about having your statement taken?” he heard Brian ask softly from his place perpendicular to his on the other wall.  He opened his eyes to stare into the hazel ones for a few seconds, feeling no need to be flippant or evasive as he nodded. 

 

“A little,” he admitted.  “It’s like reliving it all over again, and I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to it.”

 

Brian nodded as the elevator continued its short, downward journey.  “I know,” he said softly.  “But I’ll be there the whole time, okay?  And I’ll make sure you’re long gone before the press gets there, too.”

 

Justin nodded, finding himself oddly grateful for the other man’s support.  “Thanks,” he replied.  “For everything.”

 

Brian huffed in disbelief.  “I’m the one who should be thanking YOU, Justin,” he avowed.  “If you hadn’t been so persistent in getting me to listen to you…”

 

“Well, you showed up at my door, remember?”

 

Brian grimaced, feeling a little uncomfortable; he wasn’t used to having to ask for help from anyone, least of all someone like Justin, and it taken a lot of crow-eating to decide to seek out his help last night.  As he stared over at the younger man, he couldn’t help thinking, What did they really have in common, anyway?  A bullheaded, weathered police detective and a young, fresh-faced psychic artist?  It hardly seemed like a compatible alliance, but he found to his amazement that he felt comfortable around Justin.  He couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was – just yet – but he found himself wanting to find out more about this man.

 

“Do you like baseball?” he found himself abruptly asking as Justin stared back at him in puzzlement.

 

“Baseball?”  Was Brian trying to make small talk with him?  Where did that come from?

 

“Yeah… Baseball.  You know, a man hits this little white sphere on a diamond-shaped field…”

 

“I know what it is,” Justin replied a little brusquely in irritation.  He shrugged.  “Yeah… I guess.  I don’t have a chance to get to the stadium too often.” He and his father used to go – a long time ago; before everything had changed in their relationship…

 

“Well, here’s your chance,” Brian told him.  “Fraternal Order of Police has season tickets in a club box.  Come with Gus and me to the doubleheader Saturday.”

 

Justin’s eyes widened.  “You want me to go to with you and your son to the game?”

 

Games – plural,” Brian corrected him.  “It’s a doubleheader with the Braves.  Great seats, too.”

 

“I don’t know…” Justin wasn’t sure what to say.  Why would Brian want him to come? 

 

“Come on,” Brian cajoled him.  “It’s going to be a long afternoon, and once Gus is fully up and running – and believe me, running is the operative word with HIM – I’m going to need help keeping him corralled.  You’d be doing me a big favor, believe me.  What do you say?”  Brian wasn’t sure why it was so important that Justin agree to go, but he really wanted him to.  He was finding himself wanting to know more about this interesting enigma of a man.

 

As the chime sounded to signal they were reaching the lobby, Justin made an impromptu decision as Brian’s hazel eyes bored into his.  “Okay,” he whispered a little shyly.  “Thanks.”

 

Brian nodded, silently pleased, as the car came to a stop on the street-level floor and they waited for the doors to open.  He knew the coming week was going to be a bitch, but he found himself thinking that at least he had something to look forward to now.

 

Chapter Text

One Hour Later – Police Precinct

 

“Shit,” Brian muttered as he and Justin neared the police station; apparently word had already gotten out that there was big news afoot in regards to the child killer, because there were already several news trucks camped outside in the street with heavy cables running across the road.  There was a crowd milling around the area, barely keeping the road navigable as he wound his nondescript, unmarked sedan slowly toward the precinct building, grateful that in his casual, plainclothes garb no one would actually realize that he was a member of the police force.  He glanced over at Justin, noticing him wringing his hands nervously.  “Looks like I’m not going to be able to keep my promise after all, Justin,” he murmured regretfully, his jaw set with disgust over the circus atmosphere nearby.

 

Justin’s face paled.  “How did they know?”  Brian had told him the police conference wasn’t scheduled until early afternoon.  It was barely 9:25 and there seemed to be dozens of men and women congregated near the front of the police station already.

 

Brian shook his head as he maneuvered the car into the driveway to the right of the building; he glared through the tinted windows at the men and women grouped around the entrance, their microphones held up to their faces as they spoke into the camera.  Apparently some of them were already filing preliminary reports to their respective media outlets and the press conference wasn’t scheduled for a few hours yet.  “Who knows?  There always seems to be some asshole cop on the inside who’s just dying to be the celebrity du jour, or make a quick buck at the expense of confidentiality.”

 

He nodded to the guard stationed at the front of the parking garage in a small, wooden booth as he stopped in front of the privacy gate and pushed a hard, plastic I.D. parking pass into the slot before the barrier lifted and he drove into the underground facility.  Thank goodness there was limited access to the parking garage, or no doubt some of the more tenacious members of the press would have found their way in here as well. 

 

Justin’s eyes widened in shock.  “You mean a bribe?” 

 

Brian steered his car into the first available slot on the left and stopped.  Turning the engine off, he turned to look at Justin, his mouth set in a hard line.  He nodded.  “Unfortunately, there’s always someone who can be bought for the right price, Justin, even when it has to do with a case like this.  Horvath has granted extremely limited access to the evidence surrounding the murders, but there’s always someone who’s willing to sell his soul to the devil.”   He huffed out an angry breath.  “I just hope that whatever happens, something doesn’t fuck up this case.  The last thing we want is for this guy to somehow get out on some type of technicality.”  He turned to stare pensively out of the car’s windshield for a moment, lost in thought as he added, “I’m still hoping the fucker will just die from his injuries and save all us the trouble of going to trial.”  He turned in his seat to stare back at his passenger, finding a set of worried blue eyes gazing back at him.  His face transformed into more of a reassuring expression as he added, “I don’t think that will happen, though; the sergeant has made sure as few people know about all the key pieces of evidence as possible.”  Justin nodded back, not quite reassured as he was asked, “Ready to go in?”

 

Justin nodded again silently as the two men emerged from the car and walked over to the back entrance of the building, entering through a plain, scuffed-up metal door with Brian’s key card and into a somewhat dingy, white-tiled hallway ringed on both sides with identical-looking offices.  Justin recognized where they were as the same hallway he and Daphne had walked down to get to Brian’s office the other day – before the heart-stopping culmination of last night’s events. 

 

“This way,” Brian told him as he placed one of his hands lightly on Justin’s lower back and held his other hand out to indicate the way in front of them.  As Brian followed closely beside him, Justin felt his stomach fluttering from anxiety; now that they were back at the police station, it brought back unpleasant memories of when he had first come here to explain about his visions, and the knowledge that a hoard of media personnel was right outside merely added to his concern.  He inhaled a deep breath and then let it out between slightly pursed lips, trying to calm his nerves.  After approximately 20 feet or so, Brian slowed down at an office on the right.  “In here,” he said softly as he gently pushed him toward the open doorway; from the back door they had entered from, Justin hadn’t even realized they had arrived at Sergeant Horvath’s office until he saw the man pushing back from his desk and standing up to greet them as they walked in.

 

“Hey, Sarge,” Brian said as Justin walked in and shook the Sergeant’s hand.

 

“Justin,” the man said, shaking his hand.  “Brian,” Horvath acknowledged his detective.  He nodded his head toward the hallway behind them.  “Would you shut the door, Detective?”

 

Brian closed the door before joining Justin in the two seats opposite his sergeant’s.  “Do you know, by the way, that we have a mob right outside the fucking front door already?”

 

Horvath sighed heavily, rubbing one calloused hand across his face in weariness; the lack of sleep he had experienced last night was quickly catching up with him, despite having had four large mugsful of coffee already.  “Yeah,” he nodded tersely.  “I heard.  Damn media – I told them first thing this morning that I would have a press conference to update them at 1:00 p.m.  I should have known they’d all be camped out here this morning to jockey for position up front.”  He looked over at Justin, noticed his nervous-looking appearance.  The blond was biting his lower lip and had his hands tightly grasped together in his lap.  His face softened somewhat in sympathy as he told Justin, “I’m sorry, Son.  I really thought they wouldn’t be here until after you had left.”  Justin nodded in understanding before he added, “They still won’t know who you are, though, so don’t worry.  I’ll make sure you get out of here undetected.”

 

“I hope so,” Justin told him as he licked his lips to wet them; his mouth was starting to feel decidedly dry.  He suddenly felt Brian’s hand firmly but gently grasping his wrist as he turned to look at him; their hands below his sergeant’s line of sight, the gesture went unnoticed by Brian’s superior, but merely the simple gesture seemed to quell just a bit of the lead feeling in Justin’s stomach as Brian asked the sergeant, “Any more news on Carruthers?”

 

Horvath leaned back in his chair as he eyed both men studiously.  “As a matter of fact, yeah.  I just got off the phone with the security detail at the hospital; seems our suspect is starting to regain consciousness a little.”

 

Justin’s heart hammered in his chest as Brian said, “No shit.”  Carl nodded in confirmation.  “I don’t know if I’m glad to hear that or not, Sarge.  I mean, I know the parents deserve some answers from that fucker, but personally I would have preferred he just did us all a favor and died where he was.” 

 

“Yeah,” Carl responded curtly.  “I can understand that.”

 

Justin asked softly, “Is he able to talk?”  He shivered slightly; just the thought of that man actually speaking out loud made him slightly sick to his stomach; it had been bad enough imagining that raspy, deep voice in his visions but to come face to face with it... 

 

Carl shook his head.  “Not yet.  He’s still got a tube down his throat to help him breathe.   They’re slowly weaning him off the sedative he was on, so he’s still drifting in and out of consciousness.  The doctors told the security detail that he would probably be fully awake within a few hours, though, so as soon as I’m done with the press conference I’m going to head on over there to see if I can see him.”  He studied Brian for a moment before he said, “And before you ask, no, you can’t be present when I talk to him.”

 

Brian’s eyes flashed.  “The hell I can’t!  He almost killed my SON, Carl!  I have a right to be there!”

 

Carl sighed; he knew that was going to be his hot-headed detective’s reaction.  “Brian, be sensible for just a minute!  You are personally involved, not only because your son was almost killed but you wound up almost killing the suspect!  Not only are you limited to strictly administrative work right now while the internal investigation is underway, you could possibly jeopardize our case if you do anything that might even slightly border on impropriety!  You need to stay as far away from Carruthers as humanly possible right now!”  He watched as a myriad of emotions flitted across Brian’s face until he noticed him finally exhaling an angry breath of grudging acceptance; Brian could be stubborn as hell but he was also a good detective – he knew he would understand, then, his need for treading carefully in this matter.

 

“Fuck,” he hissed.  This time it was Justin who reached over and grasped his lower arm to squeeze it briefly as Brian turned to look at him; he didn’t quite know what it was, but just seeing Justin’s concerned but beautiful face was enough for the moment to supersede his own anger and frustration.  He swallowed hard before nodding at the blond, who smiled back at him slightly in response.  He turned back to his superior with a resigned sigh.  “Okay… I fucking don’t like it, but all right,” he said through gritted teeth, “I’ll do whatever the hell it takes to make sure that bastard doesn’t somehow get away with what he did.”

 

“Good,” Carl told him.  He turned to look at Justin, feeling sorry for how uncomfortable he looked; he could see a light sheen of perspiration on the young man’s forehead and knew the artist wasn’t enjoying having to return here once more to the police precinct.  “Now, Justin – I need to get your full statement regarding last night’s events.  To keep the number of personnel that have knowledge regarding Carruthers to as few as possible, instead of using a stenographer I’d like your permission to tape your statement with the camcorder located over there in the corner.  Do I have your permission to do that?”

 

Justin let out a nervous breath as he rubbed his hands across his denim pants and twisted around in his seat to observe a small, compact camcorder suspended discretely from the ceiling in the far, rear corner; he hadn’t even noticed it when they had first come in, and now that he knew it was there, his anxiety level was rising accordingly.  He turned back to look at the sergeant watching him expectantly and finally nodded silently, swallowing hard.  He was not going to relish having to relive what had happened last night; he was afraid describing the events leading up to Gus’s rescue and Carruther’s capture would simply create more nightmares on his part, but he knew it had to be done.  “Okay.”

 

Carl nodded.  “Would you like a glass of water first?”  Justin nodded gratefully as Horvath reached behind his desk and grabbed a short, stout plastic glass and poured it partially full from the stainless steel water pitcher nearby.  He handed the glass to Justin, noticing his hand trembling slightly as he reached for it.  He waited a few seconds for Justin to take a couple of sips and place it down in front of him on his desk before he continued. 

 

He reached over to the right corner of his desk and pressed a button on a small, black remote control device, looking behind Justin’s right to make sure the camcorder supported on a metal bracket was recording.  Making sure the red light was flashing to indicate the digital camcorder was functioning properly, he began, “This is the statement of Justin Taylor recorded in the presence of Sergeant Carl Horvath and Detective Brian Kinney.  Please state your full name for the record, Mr. Taylor.”

 

Justin inhaled a deep breath and let it out before he began.  He looked over at Brian for reassurance, receiving a squeeze of his hand in response; to his surprise, though, Brian didn’t let go this time, keeping their hands clasped together firmly out of the sergeant’s view as a show of support.  Justin didn’t know if that was making his heart pound furiously or if it was due to the fact that he was about to relive what had happened to them last night; perhaps it was both, but he knew it felt like his heart was about to burst out of his chest as he let out the breath he had been holding and began to speak.

 

 

A few minutes later, the preliminary demographic information out of the way – name, school information, background on how the visions he experienced had first manifested themselves – Horvath began the actual part of the statement involving last night’s events. 

 

“Now, Justin, explain what transpired yesterday from the time Detective Kinney first contacted you.  It was at your apartment, correct?”

 

Justin licked his lips nervously as he glanced over at Brian.  “Yes, that’s correct.”

 

Carl nodded.  “And approximately what time was that?”

 

“Well… He got there about 9:00 or so.”  He looked over at Brian again, who nodded in confirmation.  He knew it had been later in the evening right after Daphne had retired to bed early. 

 

“And what was Detective Kinney doing there?”  With Kinney’s son in danger last night and subsequently hospitalized, Carl had been relegated earlier to obtaining a brief verbal statement from Brian over the phone regarding his interpretation of last night’s events, deciding he would get the full, unabridged version from him this morning;  Taylor’s statement, though, would help somewhat to fill in the missing gaps. 

 

Justin bit his lower lip.  “He… He was there to ask for my help in trying to find his son.”  Once more he glanced over at Brian, noticing him gazing at him intently, the warmth of his hand providing a modicum of reassurance.  He didn’t want Brian to come across as being helpless – he knew any other time Brian would not allow himself to appear so vulnerable – so he chose his words carefully as a result.  “He thought if he talked to me again that I might think of something else that could help find his son, or that I might have had another vision of some kind.”   He wasn’t about to tell Brian’s superior that the man had stood at his apartment door, desperation and despair clearly etched on his handsome face, Gus’s hat clutched in his hand, as he pleaded with him for help. 

 

Carl prompted him, “And had you thought of anything further?”

 

Justin returned his attention back to the sergeant and sadly shook his head.  “No.  Nothing more than what I had already told you before.”

 

“But you wound up going with him to search for his son anyway?”  When Justin nodded silently, he added, “You must answer out loud, Mr. Taylor.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I thought maybe I could help somehow.  I… I couldn’t just stand there, knowing what the killer was doing, without at least trying to do something to help save his son.”

 

Carl nodded, silently reminding himself to privately chastise a certain unorthodox detective later for allowing a civilian to accompany him on such an extremely dangerous hunt; of course, ever since Taylor had become involved in the case, all the normal rules had seemingly flown out the window, so he shouldn’t have been surprised.  “Okay… So you and Detective Kinney left in his vehicle together to search for his son, Gus.”

 

Justin nodded before remembering what the sergeant had told him earlier.  “Yes, that’s right.”

 

“And about what time was that?”

 

Justin bit his lip in thought.  “About 9:30, 9:45.”

 

Carl continued.  “Now I know from my conversation with Detective Kinney at approximately the same time that you began to have some sort of additional insight occur inside the car?” 

 

Justin took another deep breath, knowing he was going to have to relive again what he had seen in his vision.  He closed his eyes briefly, concentrating on Brian’s hand in his as he opened his eyes and nodded.  “Yes.  My hand came into contact with a baseball cap that belonged to Detective Kinney’s son that was lying on the front seat and I had this sudden flash of vision in front of my eyes.”

 

“A flash?”  There was no hint of disbelief in Carl’s voice as he spoke; by now, he had come to accept that however he did it, this young man did have some sort of way of determining events that either had just happened or were about to.  He still didn’t understand how he did it, but he had no doubts about it now; if it hadn’t been for Taylor, he was convinced the killer would still be out there somewhere and they would have another dead victim on their hands – Kinney’s son. 

 

Justin nodded.  “Yes.   When I touched it, I could see in my mind this picture of an old farmhouse sitting back from the road and a sign with a name on it:  Chanticleer Farms.”  

 

Carl nodded as he added for the record, “Yeah… The old dairy.”  He cleared his throat as he spoke louder and more clearly.  “Let the record indicate that I received a phone call from Detective Kinney with a request to research the name Chanticleer Farms.  I recalled that it was an old dairy and remembered its address as being on Highway 8.”  He stared into Justin’s face, knowing from years of experience that the blond was noticeably nervous, but deciding that at least for now he was holding up okay.  “So you had this vision in your head that Detective Kinney’s son might be there?”

 

Justin looked quickly once more over at Brian, observing him eyeing him intently.  He noticed Brian’s face was drawn and flushed slightly; it was as if both of them were reliving those tense moments in his car as he returned his gaze to Horvath and nodded.  “Yes.”

 

“What exactly were you seeing in your mind, Mr. Taylor?”

 

Justin closed his eyes in thought, not really wanting to conjure up his vision again but knowing it was necessary.   He allowed his memory to drift back to last night, the first moment when he saw the image slowly coalesce in his mind as he held onto Gus’s baseball cap.  His voice was faltering and soft as he murmured, “I… I could see this old, dilapidated, two-story farmhouse sitting back along a long dirt gravel road.  It was dark except for one light shining upstairs through a tall window.  I could see this rusty sign swinging in the wind with the name Chanticleer Farms on it.  And somehow I knew; I knew this was where he had Gus.”  He took a deep breath and let it out to try and relax as he slowly opened his eyes to see both men staring intently at him in silence, almost as if they were still trying to figure out how he managed to evoke those images in his mind sight unseen.  He blinked a couple of times as if to clear his head before Carl spoke again.

 

“Okay.  So you knew the house was out on Route 8; how did you find it, though?  From what I remember, it’s very dark out there.”  Even though greater Pittsburgh was quickly swallowing up more and more of the outlying areas, Carl knew from his familiarity of the area that out on Route 8 it was still quite rural with no overhead streetlights or any other bright, consistent source of illumination. 

 

Justin nodded.  “Yeah… by the time the sun went down, it was getting really hard to see.”

 

“So how could you find this place in the dark?  I noticed later that there was no sign out front near the street.”

 

Justin looked a little uncomfortable as he fidgeted slightly; it always somewhat unnerved him when he had to talk about the weird ‘feeling’ that came over him from time to time that signaled something important was about to happen.  “I can’t explain it exactly.  But as Bri… Detective Kinney drove down the street, this sickening feeling came over me, almost like the feeling you get when you’re going to throw up, and I knew the house was there.”  He visibly recoiled at the recollection as he shuddered and his face contorted into a painful expression; even now, he could still see that horrible man slowly walking down the hallway, what he now knew to be Gus’s clothes neatly folded in his hands.  And his voice… He could still hear his deep, growling, raspy voice like sandpaper in his head, almost like he was standing right beside him.   He closed his eyes in agony as the same feeling washed over him again…

 

“Justin.”  Brian noticed with alarm how pale his companion’s face was suddenly as he waited for him to respond; he knew Carl would be taping his own statement later and this was supposed to be Justin’s turn, but he couldn’t just sit there while Justin was in pain, apparently reliving what had happened last night when both he and his own son almost got killed.  He squeezed the blond’s hand firmly as he spoke louder and more authoritatively.  “Justin!”

 

Justin sucked in a breath as if he were a dying man craving oxygen as he opened his eyes to turn and look at Brian.  He swallowed the hard lump in his throat, his mouth hanging open slightly as he practically inhaled the air around the room. 

 

“Are you okay?” Brian asked him gently, his face mirroring the concerned tone of his voice; Justin’s face had broken out into a cold sweat and he was panting softly as he gripped Brian’s hand like a steel vice now – the detective marveled at the amazing strength there in the slender hand as Justin took another deep breath and let it out.  “Do you need a break?” he asked him.

 

“No,” he whispered back at last as he lessened his grip on Brian’s hand slightly; he didn’t let it go, however, as he turned to face Horvath and nodded.  “I’m all right – let’s get this over with.”  He reached over to his partially-full glass of water with his right hand and raised it to his lips to take a couple more sips, trying to regain some moisture in his mouth that had become dry as cotton as he hand shook slightly.  He placed it back down, now empty, on the corner of Carl’s desk as he wiped a few droplets from around his mouth with his sleeve. 

 

Carl studied the two men from across his desk before he continued, finding it interesting that they seemed to be on much different terms since the events of last night.  Brian was no longer the cocky, cynical, skeptical detective he had been before when it came to this other man; he actually seemed to care about what Justin was going through.  Interesting… He cleared his throat before continuing.  “Okay… So you told Detective Kinney where to stop the car?”

 

“Yes.  I asked him to stop the car and he gave me a flashlight; we got out and started looking around the road for any sort of clue as to where the house was.  After a few minutes, I spotted the rusty sign lying next to the road; there was a weed-covered gravel road beside it.” 

 

Carl nodded, amazed that this man was able to see that in almost pitch-black darkness; he had been back out there in broad daylight and even with the additional illumination, if you didn’t know precisely where to look, both the sign as well as the neglected, overgrown gravel drive was almost impossible to detect from the main roadway.  “So what did the two of you do next?”

 

“We drove down the road without the headlights on so no one would see us until we saw the outline of the farmhouse on the left.  There was a dark-colored pickup truck parked in the driveway by the side of it with a couple of metal ladders and a big roll of plastic sheeting hanging out the back of the truck bed.”

 

Brian scraped his teeth across his lower lip as he relived with Justin what had happened last night.  He could still remember how hard his heart was pounding in his chest the closer they had come to the farmhouse.  And when they had spotted that pickup truck – the one that apparently had been used to kidnap his own child – his blood had run cold.  He had been so fucking scared that it had been too late; only Justin’s words of reassurance had kept him from giving up all hope that he would find his son still alive. 

 

“What happened next, Mr. Taylor?”  Carl pressed Justin; he knew some of the story based on the phone call Justin had made to him from inside Brian’s car, but for the record he needed him to verify the details.

 

“We pulled up behind the truck and stopped,” Justin replied as he turned to look at Brian.  “Detective Kinney got out of the car and told me to stay inside and lock the doors.  I… I watched him walk over with the flashlight to the back door and after several seconds he managed to slip inside somehow.  That’s when I called you on his phone to let you know where we were.”

 

Carl nodded.  “So you were left alone in the car while Detective Kinney went inside the house by himself?”

 

Justin nodded before he forgot what the sergeant had told him earlier.  “Yes, he told me to stay put because of the danger.”  He looked at Brian, recalling how scared he was then, for himself, yes, but more for Brian and what he would encounter inside the farmhouse.

 

“Then what happened?” 

 

“After I called and talked to you, I stayed in the car like I was told.”  Even though it fucking killed me to do it, he thought silently; he had been worried the whole time Brian was in the house that something terrible was going to happen to either him, Gus, or both of them.  It was ironic, then, that his own life wound up hanging in the balance soon afterward.

 

“And how long were you in the car before something else happened?”

 

Brian tightened his grip on Justin’s hand; he knew this was probably going to be the most difficult part of his statement.  He could only imagine how terrifying it must have been for him to confront the killer face to face with a gun pointed directly at you.

 

Justin turned to look at Brian, who nodded slightly as if to say, I’m here in this WITH you.  He nodded back at him before turning to look at Carl.  “I was sitting in the passenger seat for probably around fifteen minutes, waiting for Brian, Detective Kinney, to come out of the house when I saw this shadow limping over toward the pickup truck directly in front of me.  It was really dark, but there was just enough moonlight to make out his silhouette, so I knew it couldn’t be Detective Kinney.”  He leaned on the warmth of Brian’s hand, concentrating on his touch as he let out a shaky breath and said, “I just knew it was him.” 

 

“The suspect.”

 

“Yes.” 

 

“What happened then, Son?” Carl gently prodded him.  They were almost done, but he realized that perhaps the hardest part still lay ahead of them.   “What did you see?”

 

Justin swallowed hard, feeling like a knife was slicing through his throat.  “I watched him open the door to the truck and lean down like he was removing something.  I thought he might leave and escape through the fields next to the house… But then I watched him start to limp over… Toward the car.”  His heart began to pound again as he saw in his mind’s eye the image of Carruthers slowly shuffling the few feet over to Brian’s sedan; somehow at that instant, he knew what the man was intending to do and it had filled him with terror.  He anxiously brushed the sweaty hair back from his forehead as he advised Horvath, “I slid over on the seat and against the window, hoping he wouldn’t see me.” 

 

“What’s the next thing that happened, Mr. Taylor?”

 

The blond licked his lips nervously before he took another deep breath; he knew he was safe now, but it was almost like going through it all over again.  “I… I looked up at the driver’s side window and he was suddenly staring right at me.  He… He had a gun pointed at me and was shouting at me to unlock the door.”  Even though Carl hadn’t asked him, his next words tumbled out unsolicited.  “I was so scared he would blow my head off.”

 

Carl nodded as he responded kindly, “I can understand that.  What happened then?  Did you unlock the door like he asked?”

 

Justin shook his head.  “No, not exactly… I was going to,” he whispered painfully as a rush of emotions coursed through him:  horror over what was about to happen, impending dread, and then the total shock when the man was suddenly gone as quickly as he had appeared.  “I reached up behind me to unlock the car like he wanted, but then I heard a gunshot and he disappeared from my sight.  I was too terrified to move until I heard someone about to open the passenger door right next to me, so then I hurried over toward the driver’s seat until I heard the door open and Detective Kinney calling my name.”  He let out a tense breath through his slightly-parted lips as he glanced once more over at Brian, whose lips were pursed tightly together in contemplation.  His eyes, however, bore into his as if to tell him everything was okay now and his breathing slowed down slightly as he nodded back at him.

 

He turned his attention back to the sergeant and watched as Carl straightened up in his chair and leaned over to the corner of his desk to pick up the remote control.  “I think that’s all I need for now.”  He spoke up a little louder as he added authoritatively, “This concludes the statement of Justin Taylor.”  He pressed the button on the remote to turn off the camcorder and placed it back down on his desk.  “Thank you, Mr. Taylor.  This will be very helpful to our investigation.”

Justin closed his eyes briefly in relief, feeling like a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders.  He fervently hoped he would never have to relive that horrific experience again, but the possibility that it might all come out once more in the killer’s trial haunted him; as bad as this had been, he could imagine how awful it would be to have to repeat it in front of the killer himself and in a roomful of lawyers, jurors, and spectators.  He nodded as he opened his eyes.  “Now what happens?” he asked as he felt Brian finally release his hand and cross his arms over his chest.  He felt a profound sense of emptiness where Brian’s hand had been clutching his as he waited for the sergeant to respond; he wondered fleetingly whether Brian felt the same as he did.

 

“Well, I’m going to take Brian’s statement now regarding last night’s events; both your statements will be entered as evidence.  Frankly the rest depends upon whether Carruthers survives his injuries or not.  Obviously if he doesn’t make it charging him with the crimes will be irrelevant.  But you can make damned sure that I will be going down there as soon as the press conference is over to find out if he’s fully conscious and able to be interviewed; if he chooses to say anything of his own volition then, it will all be recorded, just like your statements here today.  He has a 24-hour guard on his room right now, so even if he does get better and can be discharged, he’s not going anywhere.  Believe me, you have nothing to be worried about.” 

 

The confident look on Horvath’s face calmed Justin’s fears somewhat as he nodded in response.  “Except for having to testify at his trial.” 

 

Horvath looked at him sympathetically.  “Yeah, that could happen, Son.  It will all depend upon whether he recovers and whether he’s seen as competent to stand trial then.”

 

“You have got to be shitting me, Sarge!” Brian growled from his place to Justin’s left.  “He meticulously thought out all these murders down to the change in clothing, the damn paper heart and the dumping sites; he even lured Gus back to his house with that puppy ruse and covered up his tracks after he killed his victims!  How in the hell could anyone declare him incompetent after knowing all that?”

 

Carl sighed, noticing Justin staring at him intently as he waited for his response; no doubt, the young artist was keenly interested in his answer as well.  “I know – it sounds like he clearly had the wherewithal to methodically plan everything out ahead of time, which would normally indicate premeditation.  But you have to keep in mind, Kinney – his own son was killed in an accident by his own hand and his wife died shortly thereafter; you can bet your ass his defense attorney will latch onto that fact immediately.  Personally, I think we have him dead to rights – he was found with your son in a house with clothing belonging to all the other victims; there was even construction paper matching the color and pattern of the hearts attached to the victims’ chests found in the same room where he had a shrine to his son.  The man’s guilty as sin and his attorney will no doubt realize that; so don’t bet his counsel won’t be grasping at whatever straws he can to make sure his client doesn’t wind up being found guilty of a death-penalty crime.  And you also have to remember he’s the son of a former, well-respected police chief; dollars to donuts the man has some long-standing relationships with several of his father’s old cronies that will no doubt help him in his defense, despite the crimes he’s accused of.”

 

Brian hissed out an angry breath as he unlocked his arms and grasped his thighs, his fingers white from the strain.  “Fuck, Carl!  That is unbelievable!”

 

“Now don’t go getting all bent out of shape, Kinney; we don’t even know if the man’s going to survive his injuries yet.  And knowing the court system, even if he’s indicted for the crimes, which no doubt he will be, it’ll be a long time before it even goes to trial, you know that.”

 

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Brian countered.

 

Carl sighed.  “No, I suppose not,” he admitted.  “But it’s the truth.  And in the meantime, there will be plenty of other criminals that need your attention.”  He could tell his detective wasn’t happy with that answer, but it was the best he could do.  He turned to Justin, who was eyeing him silently; he could tell the blond was still concerned with the idea that he may well have to repeat everything that he had just told him, as well as what had led up to last night’s events.  He could certainly understand why that concern him; not only would he have to endure reliving it all over again, but his secret ‘gift’ that he had so closely guarded would be publicly revealed and open to meticulous scrutiny.  Carl had no doubt that its disclosure would make for sensational media coverage, much to Taylor’s detriment, but it couldn’t be helped.  So much for helping the police, he couldn’t help thinking ruefully.  It was ironic that too often people were too afraid to get involved with crimes for fear of retaliation and ridicule; it was a shame that this young man who had done the right thing and was so instrumental in helping to find the killer was probably going to open himself up to all sorts of skepticism and unwelcome attention as a result.

 

He picked up the remote control, prepared to start it up again as he looked over at Justin.  “Justin, I need to take Brian’s statement now, so you are free to go.  I want to make good on my word to get you out of here before the press conference; they’re already camped outside waiting for it.” The disdain was evident in his voice as he spoke; he considered the media a necessary evil – indispensable when information needed to be disseminated, but a real pain in the ass when they were trying to keep some heavily-guarded information confidential. 

 

Justin appeared flustered as he began to stammer, “Uh… Okay.”  He supposed he could find a bus somewhere nearby; at least no one should know who he is yet, so he hoped he could just leave quietly by the front door just like he was some average, everyday citizen reporting an accident or something stolen.

 

Brian, however, spoke up immediately.  “No, Justin stays until I’m done.  I drove him here and I’m driving him back.”  He didn’t stop to evaluate why that was so important to him; logically it was because he owed Justin at least that much but so much more after he had been indispensible in saving his son’s life.  He tried to rationalize his feelings by saying he felt an obligation to him as a result.  Oddly, though, somewhere in the back of his mind he realized there was more to it than that…

 

“Oh, that’s right,” Carl said, pinching the bridge of his nose between his two fingers as he remembered his conversation with his detective earlier.  He turned to look at Justin.  “Well, then, why don’t I have you wait in Brian’s office until we’re done here?  No one should bother you there, and I don’t think his statement will take very long.”  He eyed the two men carefully, wondering exactly what was going on between them, before he suggested, “Kinney, show Justin again where your office is and then we’ll get started.” 

 

Justin turned to Brian quietly.  “If you’re sure…” 

 

Brian rose from his seat, motioning with his hand outward.  “I told you I would take you home afterward,” he told him as Justin stood up.  “Come on.”  Justin hesitated for a couple of seconds before he nodded.  Just as he was about to leave Horvath’s office, the sergeant called out to him.  “We’ll keep in touch, Justin,” he was told.  “For now, though, you mustn’t divulge any of what you’ve heard in here to anyone, okay?”

 

Justin nodded in understanding, knowing that Daphne knew some of it and would no doubt pepper him with questions once he returned, but also realizing how important it was to keep as much information regarding the case to himself as he could; the last thing he wanted was for Carruthers to somehow squirm out of what he had done.  If he did, he wouldn’t be able to live with himself. 

 

He felt Brian’s hand lightly resting on his shoulder as the two of them walked down the hallway toward Brian’s office; a few seconds later, his skin flushed as he felt a wisp of warm air blowing over his cheek when Brian leaned over and inquired quietly, “Are you alright?”  He was steered into Brian’s office on the right through an open doorway as the detective quickly closed the door behind him for privacy and he took a seat – ironically the same exact chair he had been sitting in the other day when he had made the horrifying discovery that Brian’s son was going to be the next victim.  He shivered slightly at the recollection as he noticed Brian watching him from the edge of the desk where he had perched on it, his long legs swinging slightly in front of him as he studied him carefully.  He flushed a little more at the scrutiny as he nodded over at him. 

 

“Yeah… I guess.  It just brought everything back, that’s all.” 

 

Brian nodded, his hands clasped across his chest.  “I’m sure that had to be hard for you,” he replied, staring into Justin’s blue eyes; there was something at once both magnetic and addictive about the color, Brian decided.  He found it hard to look away as he noticed Justin staring at something behind him.  He twisted around just enough to realize he was looking at his son’s picture – the same one he had seen the other day.  “I shouldn’t be too long,” he advised his companion, turning his upper body back around to face him.  “If it’s uncomfortable for you to be back in my office, I’m sure I can find someplace else…”

 

“No,” Justin assured him quickly.  “It’s okay – really.”  He smiled slightly.  “Actually, it feels kind of good now, knowing that your son is going to be all right.” 

 

Brian nodded, returning his look with a grateful smile of his own; any time his son was mentioned, anyway, it normally put a smile on his face just thinking about him.  But it was much more meaningful this time, knowing that his son was, indeed, well on his way to a full recovery.  “Okay, then, I shouldn’t be too long.”  He slid off the corner of his desk as Justin nodded.  For some reason, he felt the need to place his right hand briefly on Justin’s shoulder again for just a moment before he walked over to the doorway and opened the heavy wooden door, closing it softly but firmly behind him.

 

Justin sighed as the peacefulness of the room enveloped him; it helped to steady his nerves, which were on edge from what had just transpired.  He held his head in his hands as he rested his elbows on his knees, the sound of his breathing and the quiet, regular ticking of the clock overhead the door the only noise he could hear.  As he waited for Brian to proceed with his own statement, his thoughts drifted to the man currently lying in a hospital bed.  Would he wind up actually surviving the shooting?  And if so, would he recover sufficiently enough to be declared sane and fit to stand trial?  He was torn between wanting to see justice done but dreading the thought of having to retell everything that had happened to him, especially the part about how he had come to help find the killer.  He would either be a laughing stock for what he said, hounded relentlessly by the press, or both, neither of which filled him with anticipation.  It was more like a heavy weight in his stomach, despite Horvath advising him it might be months before he would even have to worry about it.  It still didn’t reassure him much.  How he wished he had never been ‘blessed’ with his fucking insight!  As he lifted his head to stare over at Gus’s portrait, though, he reminded himself that for once, that cursed ‘gift’ had managed to save at least one life.  Perhaps that was what he needed to concentrate on instead of worrying about what might not come to pass at all.  Easier said than done, he muttered to himself as he let out an anxious breath through his lips. 

 

And what of the son’s father?  Brian.  He was quite a contradiction of emotions:  overly confident, even arrogant at times, stubborn, cynical, headstrong, bullheaded, and driven.  But there were times when he allowed his raw emotions to show, glimpses into his emotions that indicated he was also vulnerable, tender, thoughtful, and caring.  Justin smirked as he shook his head in confusion; would the real Brian Kinney please stand up?  He stood up himself and walked around Brian’s desk to carefully pick up the photo of Gus; the child was the spitting image of his complex father – same lock of auburn hair, same beautiful eyes, same type of facial bone structure, same long-legged frame.  It hadn’t escaped him that Brian’s more fragile emotions seemed to emerge when he was either worried or thinking about his son or actually interacting with him.  Just when he had thought he had the man figured out, he had shown up on his doorstep last night, his eyes shining with unspent tears and wearing his heart on his sleeve as he pleaded with him to help him find the son he loved so deeply.  It was at that moment that Justin realized he really didn’t know the true Brian Kinney at all; all the swagger and bravado he had seen before was an effective, necessary shell for a police detective that had to keep his emotions in check on the job, but it didn’t tell the true story of who the man was.  It was part of him, but certainly not all of it.  As he gingerly placed the photo back down in its original spot, he decided he wouldn’t mind getting to know more about this man.  Perhaps Saturday he would get that chance.

 

The idea of spending leisure time with Brian away from the pressures of his job filled him with both nervous anticipation and worry.  He was actually excited to see how Brian was outside his role as a hard-edged detective, but he was also a bit uneasy as well.  The times that Brian had unexpectedly touched him on the waist, his shoulder, and his back has set off a flash of electric shock through his body; it was a feeling unlike anything he had ever felt before with any other man who he had been in physical contact with.  And when he had gripped his hand earlier in Horvath’s office – even at the risk of him being detected – he knew when his heart skipped a beat and started pounding that it wasn’t simply a case of anxiety over having to give his statement; no, his body was reacting once more to Brian’s touch.  There was just something about it that set his pulse racing and his heart to quicken.  It was both exhilarating and scary as hell, but he did know one thing:  now that he had felt it, he wanted to feel it again.

 

He noticed one of Brian’s jackets hanging on an old-fashioned, wooden coat rack perched in the corner. Walking over to it, he impulsively pulled it off the hook and brought it up to his nose to smell the strong, masculine scent – a mixture of cigarettes, expensive cologne and aftershave.  He found it downright intoxicating and he inhaled deeply before, glancing through the slatted windows by the door to make sure he wasn’t being watched, he took one additional, quick inhale of the heady scent before he hastily placed it back on the same hook where he had found it.

 

 

Same Time – Alleghany General Hospital – ICU

 

The dark-haired, middle-aged head emergency nurse glanced up at the vitals monitor, noting through her wire-rimmed glasses that the patient’s vitals had improved somewhat from the previous hour; his oxygen level was now at acceptable levels, and his blood pressure, while still somewhat low, was slowly rising from its previous reading.  The IV drip that had contained the sedative that had brought the patient into an induced coma was now disconnected from the patient’s arm in the hope that he would continue to regain consciousness on his own once the full effect had worn off.  So far, he had been oscillating between unconsciousness and partial wakefulness. 

 

 

Lieutenant Satterwhite glanced up as his coworker, Office Clinton Rogers, walked up to him by the entrance to their charge’s door and handed a Styrofoam container of inky-black coffee to him.  “Thanks,” Satterwhite grunted as he took a sip of the lukewarm brew and grimaced at the bitter taste as it slid down his throat. 

 

“Anything new?” the skinny officer asked his superior, nodding his head toward the currently open door.  He peered inside the room, noticing a nurse writing down some information on a chart as she glanced up at a vitals monitor.

 

“He’s still drifting in and out,” Satterwhite told the other man.  “Seems about the same, though.  Nurse said he hasn’t really responded to any stimuli yet and it may be some time before he really wakes up.  If you ask me, he can just go to sleep permanently.”

 

As the nurse walked out, she nodded at them, not really understanding why their patient was currently placed under such tight guard but realizing they must have a good reason for it; it wasn’t the first time their hospital had encountered such treatment, although it was relatively rare.  It was a bit unnerving, though, having two armed, uniformed police guards standing watch constantly.  At the slow rate the patient was recovering, though, she figured they would be standing as watchful sentinels for some time to come; that is, IF the patient fully recovered – despite his brief periods of semi-consciousness, the patient remained in critical condition and his prognosis was still quite guarded. 

 

Rogers glanced at the man inside who was lying still and immobile.  “You really think he’s the child killer?” he asked his co-worker, nodding his head toward Carruthers.

 

Satterwhite shrugged.  “That’s what I’ve heard,” he groused, his tone derisive as he felt the ache clearly in his middle-aged joints from having to stand up for the past several hours.  He wasn’t exactly happy to have been given babysitting detail for the man inside; he had just come off his regular shift last night, only to be ordered to stand guard over this critically-injured suspect.  With his several years’ experience as an advantage, he was able to glean just enough information from one of the other officers who had been called out to some remote farmhouse on the outskirts of town to determine that the burly, stocky man lying inside the room unconscious was the prime suspect in the child killer murders; in fact, he had been told by the same man that the latest kidnap victim had been none other than Brian Kinney’s own son, Gus, the child that he knew Kinney absolutely doted upon.  No wonder, then, that they were being ordered to guard this man around-the-clock, but he wished that someone else had been given this ‘honor;’ he wasn’t a young recruit anymore and his body was betraying that fact at the moment. 

 

“Well, you remember that young kid that showed up the other day that was taken back to talk to Horvath and Kinney?”

 

Satterwhite nodded at Rogers as he scrunched up his face in thought, trying to recall what the anxious-looking kid’s name was; he prided himself on his photographic memory when it came to names and dates, and he knew the guy had introduced himself to both Kinney and Horvath when they had come out to greet him.  The name – a relatively simple, easily understood one, finally came to him as he thought back to the shaggy-haired boy that had looked so uncomfortable and frightened.  “Yeah… Justin Taylor; he came babbling in about knowing something about the child murders,” he said in recollection.  “We get those kinds of kooks all the time, though.” 

 

Rogers leaned his tall, lanky frame toward his superior as he said somewhat haughtily, “Well, I was there Friday when he was led back to Kinney’s office; he took one look at the man’s picture of his son behind his desk and said something about him being the killer’s next victim.  Turns out he was right, doesn’t it?”

 

Satterwhite frowned as he recalled the young, blond-haired man, almost a kid really, that had walked in looking so nervous about a week ago and had then returned the other day, asking to see Sergeant Horvath again.  He had been ready to summarily dismiss the man outright at the time, only to be astounded when Horvath had told Rogers to bring him back to see him.  “You’re shitting me,” he countered.  “You heard him say that?”

 

Rogers nodded his head.  “Yeah… Word is that he’s one of those psychics and he was drawing pictures of what he saw in his head.”  His voice dripped with disdain as he held up his hands and made an ‘air quotes’ motion at the mention of the word psychics and snorted.  “They’re all a bunch of fakes,” he declared flatly as he grudgingly admitted, though, “But it’s still kind of spooky that he would figure that out somehow.” 

 

Satterwhite nodded; he had never believed in all that hokey, psychic bullshit, but it was hard to explain, nonetheless, how the man could possibly have known who the next target would be unless he was either in on the whole thing or really did have prescient knowledge of the fact.  “How do they know he wasn’t in on the whole thing and it somehow backfired?” he wondered.  That had to be the only logical explanation – didn’t it?  “Maybe he was just trying to save his own ass before they caught this fucker.”

 

Rogers peeked inside to make sure their assigned suspect was still out cold before he replied, “Could be.  But as far as I know, he’s not under arrest – just THIS asshole.  Kinney, in fact, was the one who shot him in the back, and get this:  I heard it was because – Taylor, you said?”  Satterwhite nodded.  “This Taylor – a civilian – was with him and the suspect pulled a gun on him; he had to shoot the guy to save the kid’s life.  Doesn’t sound like an accomplice, then, to me.”

 

Satterwhite’s eyes widened at that revelation.  “Yeah… it doesn’t,” he admitted.  “Kinney’s normally a good judge of character,” he grudgingly told the other man, who nodded.  “I agree with you, though; I still say people who have those so-called ‘vision’ are phonies, though, but I can’t explain how he did it.  He still could have had some type of inside knowledge.”

 

Rogers shrugged.  “Who knows?” he responded.  “As far as I’m concerned, though, 3:00 can’t come soon enough.  My feet are fucking killing me.”

 

Satterwhite sighed in disgust.  “You tell ME; at least you’re still young.  I thought I gave up being a grunt cop years ago.  The only good part about this whole thing is that I’m getting paid time-and-a-half.”  Having been a policeman for over twenty years now, the main goal he had now was simply putting in enough time to retire early.  It was details like this one that made that goal even more attractive.  “I’ve got to piss,” he told the other man as he took one more glance at their charge.  “Keep an eye on him – don’t let him get a running start on you.”  He chuckled at his joke, knowing with the restraints on the man’s wrists he wasn’t going anywhere, even if he DID wake up; that made their imposed responsibilities to guard him all the more unnecessary.  It wasn’t as if the man could walk away from them right now even if he wanted to.

 

Rogers laughed companionably at him as the other man walked away.  He reached inside his pocket to locate the gummy snacks he had bought at the vending machine next to the coffee display and with his back to the hospital room, he tore open the packet to plop some into his mouth. Chuffing out a tired breath, he silently wished his monotonous detail would end soon.

 

 

As Rogers slowly chewed on his snack, a pair of steel-gray eyes slowly fluttered open from twelve feet away.  As the man digested what he had just heard, his hands curled into tight fists of rage.

Chapter Text

Carruthers and his son were together again as they played catch in the backyard of their suburban home, his wife smiling as she looked at them through the kitchen garden window while she washed the dinner dishes.  The two-story, split-level home they had moved into a few years ago had instantly caught his wife’s fancy when they had first toured it, the big kitchen with the smooth, granite countertops and the large workstation island attracting her immediately.  She was a great cook and loved to fix homemade meals for the family each night, even though it involved hours of preparation on the weekend to insure she could prepare them after working all day as a police dispatcher.

 

He smiled, happy and contented, until he frowned at the sound of two men speaking somewhere nearby and his dream bubble shattered as his son and wife slowly dissipated into a swirl and he was brought unwillingly back to consciousness.  His eyes fluttered open in disorientation and his heart pounded in alarm as he realized he wasn’t with his son and wife at all; he was lying flat on his back, instead, in a hospital bed with his hands bound by his sides and his body sluggish and achy, the typical sounds of bleating machines surrounding him on all sides as they monitored his vital signs and pumped some unknown medication into him.  He strained to hear what the two unknown strangers were discussing somewhere close by.  From what the men were saying, they were apparently policemen and they were talking about him.  Their words sounded derisive and scornful as they mocked him and wished he were dead.  Why?  Why would they think that?  Why was in a hospital?  Why was a breathing tube in his throat?  What had happened?

 

All of yesterday’s events soon came rushing back to him in a brief period of clarity as he heard them continue to speak; they were talking about the boy he had brought home for his son yesterday; the dark-haired shortstop for his son’s team.  The latest friend for his son to play with.  He would have been perfect for him.  So perfect.  But that man, that cop, had spoiled it all for his son.  He had destroyed all his plans. He had somehow found out where he was and had taken the little boy away from him before he could finish his preparations.   The worst part was, he had let his only son down.

 

The men located right outside the door were still talking, discussing now how someone had tipped the cop off to his son being the next target and that’s how they had found him at the farmhouse.  He frowned; how could anyone know about it?  He hadn’t shared his plan with anyone else.  No one knew where or when he would find the next child and where he would take them afterward – no one except his son.  He had been careful, extremely careful, and it had worked perfectly up until now. How was it possible, then? 

 

What were they saying now?  They were talking about some other man – a kid, really, one was calling him.  A person who had pre-warned the same cop that had found him, the man who was apparently the father of the little boy he had been holding last night.  Justin Taylor.  That must have been the man he had encountered huddling in the nearly moonless darkness in the car.  The one he had been staring at when that same cop had shot him in cold blood in the back.  A fucking psychic?  Was it possible?  Is that how they knew where to find him despite his meticulous precautions?  The man had somehow seen it in his head and drawn a fucking map to find him? 

 

He squeezed his eyes shut tightly in regret and shame, the tears slowly oozing out from under his eyelids as he realized his efforts had been in vain and his son was once more alone.  I was so careful, Tommy.  So very carefulI’m so sorry, Son, so sorry… I’ve let you down again.  As he heard them continue to talk about the man who had destroyed his dreams of providing his son with some happiness until they could be together again, his eyes opened slowly and his expression darkened as his hands curled into balls of rage over what they had prevented.  I won’t let you down, Tommy, I can’t!  I will find a way to finish what I’ve begun… He felt his heart begin to pound as he pulled at his restraints, the veins in his burly wrists bulging as he thrashed from side to side in frustration, wanting desperately to remove the apparatus from his throat and the straps from his hands.  He felt like he was gagging, choking as he continued to struggle; like he was drowning with no way to swim to the surface. 

 

He heard some sort of alarm beeping nearby as he continued to protest his predicament and angled his legs up to place his feet face down on the mattress in hopes of arching himself up off the bed and freeing himself somehow, but it was no use.  The strong nylon straps imprisoning his wrists wouldn’t give more than a millimeter and they remained firmly attached to the bed like steel bands.

 

“Nurse!” he heard one of the male voices yelling anxiously from several feet away.  “Something’s wrong!”  Several seconds later he saw a woman wearing an outfit that looked remarkably like the pajamas he always provided for his son’s playmates appearing in his peripheral vision before he soon felt her grasp his wrist and plunge something into the tender flesh of his arm.  A few seconds later, he felt his body surrendering to the medication, his limbs feeling heavy like cement, as he slowly drifted back into unconsciousness once more.

 

 

One Hour Later – Near Justin’s Apartment

 

“I appreciate you bringing me back home,” Justin told Brian softly as the detective steered his police sedan over to the curb directly in front of Justin’s apartment.

 

Brian glanced over at his companion.  Justin had been noticeably quiet during their drive back to his apartment; Brian suspected it had to do with having to relive every sordid detail of last night’s events.  He had seen this same sort of reaction before in witnesses to crimes once they had made their statement; it was as if they never wanted to utter a single additional word about it again once they had explained out loud what had happened and had it officially recorded.  He wished that would be the case with Justin; however, he knew deep down this was just the beginning.  If Carruthers survived his injuries, and it appeared that he might, Justin would have to endure having to testify openly in front of not only Carruthers himself but also a frenzy of media and obsessive court case groupies who were always morbidly fascinated by heinous crimes such as this one.

 

He slowed the vehicle down and came to a stop, turning the motor off and bathing the car’s interior in silence as he turned to look at Justin, who was fidgeting with his hands in his lap.  As he lifted his blue eyes to peer over at Brian, they appeared troubled and anxious.  “What’s on your mind, Justin?” Brian asked him softly, his eyes scrutinizing the blond’s face thoughtfully.  He was normally an expert at reading other people’s emotions by looking at their face or observing their body language – it was a gift that served him well in his capacity as a detective – but for some reason when it came to this particular man, he found it quite difficult to figure him out.  That realization made him both confused as well as fascinated.  “Are you still thinking about your statement earlier?”

 

He heard Justin sigh as he turned to gaze out the window; the mid-afternoon day was overcast and dreary, much like that first day that he had gathered on a windswept hill with his sergeant to observe the latest victim’s body lying at the bottom of a ravine, cold and still.  He shivered slightly at the thought that had it not been for Justin, his son could have very well met the same fate. 

 

“Yeah… That’s part of it,” Justin admitted to him softly as he continued to gaze out onto the street, observing a small group of children walking together, apparently coming from the playground located nearby and unaccompanied by any adult.  They appeared to be older than Gus, maybe in their pre-teens, but they were still without adult supervision.  Do they never learn?   He shook his head at the craziness inherent in the world as he said, “I just can’t help wondering what’s going to happen now.”

 

“Well, a lot’s going to depend upon whether the fucker recovers from his injuries.  And then if he does, I’m sure some bleeding-heart court-appointed attorney will file a motion to determine competence.  If he’s found incompetent to stand trial, he likely will be reprimanded to a mental facility of some sort to try and stabilize his psychological condition and eventually make him fit for trial.”   His face set in anger over the man possibly not even being tried for what he had done – and almost done to his own son – he growled, “I wish I had killed the bastard when I had the chance.” 

 

Justin swallowed hard; merely thinking about the man recovering and eventually being declared fit for trial meant he would have to go through everything all over again, and that was the last thing he wanted.  But he knew somehow when he first showed up at the police station that there was a possibility that might happen.  He knew by getting involved, there would possibly be ramifications that he would have rather not addressed.  But it was too late now; and in retrospect, he hadn’t had any choice, not if there was any chance he could save innocent lives.  He had been too late in most respects to save the children, but at least Brian’s son was safe; he took some solace in that fact as he nodded. 

 

“Yeah… I can understand that; I kind of wish you had, too,” he admitted as he turned to look at Brian.  It would have definitely made things a lot easier for him.   He bit his lower lip pensively as he stared into Brian’s intense eyes.  “I’m torn, Brian.  I think the man needs to stand trial for what he’s done, but I’m really dreading having to testify.”  He turned to look out the window again as the group of children walked by their car and caught his eye.  “I’ve tried for a long time to disguise my unwelcome ‘gift,’ and now it looks like I might have to broadcast it for all the world to see.  As soon as it’s out, it’ll be all over the internet.  And then I won’t have a fucking moment’s peace afterward.”  He snorted.  “Maybe at least I’ll be rich and famous then.  Going on the talk shows and being encouraged to conjure up visions in my head is not quite what I had in mind for a profitable career, though, but I’d be right up there with the snake-oil salesman and the faith healers.” 

 

Brian looked at him sympathetically as he reached over to clasp Justin’s hand, feeling the same, familiar jolt of emotion over his touch; it evoked a feeling in him that he had never felt for any other man before.  He couldn’t quite explain it – maybe it wasn’t important to analyze it – but he still was confounded by the feelings it engendered in him with such a simple gesture.  He discovered that he actually liked the feeling, though.  “Hey,” he answered softly as he grasped Justin’s hand and the blond turned back to look at him in response to his touch.  “You can’t equate what you have with that.  I don’t presume to try and understand how you do what you do, and I know you never wanted it, but it’s still there, Justin.  And it’s real.”  He smiled and shook his head slightly.  “I never in my wildest dreams thought I would believe that when I first met you.  I thought you were either in cahoots with the man or a total kook out for publicity.  Boy, was I wrong about that.”

 

“Believe me, that’s the last thing I wanted,” Justin responded firmly.  If it were up to him, he’d rather just go back to his humdrum life as a budding artist and student.  One thing he wasn’t sorry about, though, in addition to being able to help save a young boy’s life – he was thankful that it had enabled him to meet this bigger-than-life, gorgeous, intriguing man who was currently holding his hand and making his insides do all sorts of crazy things as his eyes peered into his so intently.  He hadn’t always felt that way, but things had been slowly evolving over the past few days into something much different than before… Something he couldn’t quite put a name to yet, but it was there nonetheless.

 

Brian smiled, making his heart skip a beat.  “I know,” he told him.  “But we can’t put the genie back into the bottle now, Justin, as much as we might like to.  Let’s just wait and see what happens,” he suggested.  “We don’t even know if Carruthers will pull through or not.  And even if he does, I’m sure any trial with him is a long ways off.  You can bet there will be a long discovery period by both sides before it even gets scheduled on the docket.” 

 

Justin nodded, slightly comforted that at least any testimony he would have to give wouldn’t be happening for a long time yet.  He suddenly thought of the press conference that was due to take place soon.  “How sure are you that Sergeant Horvath won’t mention my name today?”

 

“I’m a hundred percent sure,” Brian told him firmly, squeezing his hand briefly.  “There’s no need to release that information.  And Carl is determined not to give away too many details for fear of jeopardizing the case against Carruthers.  He is mainly going to use the press conference to announce we feel confident we have the perpetrator finally in custody.” 

 

“But you know how the press is,” Justin responded a little worriedly.  “They can be very persistent.” 

 

Brian snorted.  “You’re being a lot more polite about them than I would be.  They’re obnoxious assholes.” 

 

Justin had to chuckle a little at Brian’s description.  “Well, that, too.” 

 

Brian blew out a breath between his open lips, glancing over at the car’s clock to note it was getting close to the time for the press conference.  Even though he knew his sergeant had no intention of publicizing Justin’s name, he had already told Brian his own name would probably have to be disclosed due to a shooting being involved.  Like Justin, he wasn’t looking forward to having the press hounding him, either, but he knew it went with the territory when it came to being a policeman involved with a high-profile case, and he’d rather be the media’s target than Justin.  He was much better equipped to handle it, he suspected, than Justin would be, although he by no means thought of him as being weak or defenseless.  Something told him that this particular blond could be quite fiery when the need called for it.  A fleeting thought of just what other circumstances would warrant seeing his companion’s passion flaring flashed through his mind before he firmly quashed it down; there would be time and a place for that later. 

 

Reluctantly letting go of Justin’s hand, he cleared his throat, noticing Justin staring silently back at him.  “Well.  I’d better get going.”  He smiled.  “I talked to Lindsay a little while ago; Gus is finally on his way back home, so I want to go check on him.”

 

Justin smiled warmly at the good news, momentarily startling Brian by its radiance.  “That’s wonderful news, Brian!” he said.  “I’m so glad to hear that.”  He looked over toward the apartment building’s door, knowing he had to leave but hating to, before he added, “Thanks again for bringing me home.”

Brian nodded.  “No problem.  Besides, until I’m reinstated to full duty, it’s not like I don’t have the extra time.”

Justin nodded sympathetically.  “How long do you think you’ll have to be on leave?  Surely they realize you only shot the guy because he was pointing a gun at me at the time.”  He shuddered at the thought and his voice softened as he added, “That reminds me… I don’t think I ever thanked you for saving my life last night.”

Brian looked at him, incredulous.  “Justin… You saved my son’s life!  Nothing I could ever do could repay you for that.”  He stared into Justin’s soft blue eyes, his gaze lowering after a few seconds to take in the blond’s smooth, pale skin and his lips, the bottom one full and lush, just perfect for kissing, for…

 

He averted his gaze downward, slightly unnerved by the feelings coursing through him. God, he wanted nothing more at that moment than to reach over and prove to himself just how kissable those lips were.  But he also knew he had to leave right now or he would miss both the press conference broadcast as well as his son’s return. 

 

“You don’t have to thank me,” he finally whispered when he was sure his voice wouldn’t betray what he was thinking.  He cleared his throat again; why did he feel so awkward around this man all of a sudden?  “My son being alive and well is more than payment for me.  He means the world to me,” he confessed, amazed that he was opening up this way to a virtual stranger.  He never revealed his inner feelings to anyone, especially about his son.  So what exactly was it about Justin that made him comfortable doing that?

 

Justin nodded, wondering why the normally self-assured and confident detective was suddenly appearing so ill at ease and uncomfortable.  Had he done something to bother him?  He stared over at Brian’s profile, noting he was looking everywhere but directly back at him.  “Well, I at least want to thank you for sitting in with me earlier when I had to give my statement.  I don’t know how I would have gotten through it without your help.”  He recalled how wonderful it had felt when Brian had inexplicably reached to take his hand during some of the more difficult questioning; just feeling the warmth of Brian’s hand and knowing he was by his side had helped him to get through what turned out to be a very unpleasant experience.  Of course, that was nothing, he was sure, compared to what it would be like if he wound up having to testify, but at least he shouldn’t have to worry about it for a while yet. 

 

“It was nothing,” Brian said in dismissal.  “Part of my job.” 

 

What? Justin couldn’t help thinking to himself.  Do you ALWAYS hold the witness’s hand?  He decided not to press his luck, however, and call Brian on it as he said, “Well, I appreciate it anyway.”  Brian looked over at him as he nodded, reaching for the car’s door handle to exit. 

 

“Will the press conference be televised?” he asked Brian as he unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the door to get ready to leave.   If it was, he was torn between not wanting to have the details dredged back up and curiosity over how Horvath would handle disseminating the information to the public and the media.  And he had a definite feeling that Daphne would most certainly want to see it; ever since he had started having visions about the murders, she had been following the case closely, and now that he was directly involved, something told him her interest would be keener than before. 

 

Brian rolled his eyes in disgust.  “Oh, I’m sure they’ll manage to have it broadcast while the Sarge is speaking.  I noticed all sorts of camera trucks parked right outside the precinct.  Nowadays, there’s no such thing as a news delay with the internet and camera phones.”

 

Justin nodded.   “No, I guess not,” he agreed as he emerged from the car and stood just outside the passenger door.  He walked around to Brian’s side as he prepared to enter his apartment directly across the street, stopping briefly to stand by the detective’s car.  “Well, I hope it goes smoothly,” he told Brian.  “I’m sure Daphne and I will be watching.”

 

He hesitated for a just a second before he turned to go; he stopped, however, as Brian called out his name.  “Justin?”

 

“Yes?”  He stood there on the sidewalk, staring into the hazel eyes that were now boring back at him, feeling his pulse quicken slightly simply at the look he was receiving; the intense stare he was getting made his insides go crazy as he fervently wished he could read minds instead of being just psychic. 

 

“Don’t forget about this weekend.” 

 

Justin frowned, momentarily forgetting.   “This weekend?”

 

“The doubleheader with Gus and me; you agreed to go, remember?”  

 

Justin thought he detected just a hint of uncertainty in Brian’s voice as he suddenly recalled their conversation earlier at the police station.  “Oh… Yeah,” he replied softly with an almost shy smile.  He still felt just a little nervous about being around such a formidable man as Brian Kinney in a social setting with his son, but he was definitely looking forward to observing what he was like away from the stresses of his detective’s responsibilities.  “You did promise me good seats, right?  Otherwise, I’m not going,” he teased.

 

Brian smiled back at him, his lips curled under.  “Don’t worry – you’ll have the best ones in the house,” he replied.  “Gus and I will pick you up at 11:30, okay?  The first game’s at 1:00; Gus likes to roam around the plaza beforehand and try out some of the games.  He’s usually eaten a hot dog and some nachos before the first pitch is even thrown.”

 

Justin laughed.  “I like your son!” he replied.  “He and I apparently have something in common already.”

 

Brian groaned facetiously.  “Thanks for letting me know – I’ll make sure to stop at the ATM to get some extra cash before I pick you up.”  Justin grinned back at him as he added more softly, “We’ll see you then.” 

 

Justin nodded as Brian started the car up and, with one last glance back at him, slowly moved out into traffic.  Justin watched him go, deep in thought for several seconds before he finally turned and proceeded toward the apartment building’s front door.

 

 

Police Precinct – 12:55 p.m. – Front Steps 

 

Carl tugged uncomfortably at his shirt collar, the tie making him feel like he was wearing a noose instead.  The day was gray, damp and humid for autumn, but he suspected the sweat sticking to his neck and forehead was due more to being greeted by the multitude of hot spotlights and cameras surrounding him.  He stood on the landing of the front steps, flanked by four armed and uniformed policeman.  It hadn’t really been his intention to display such a flagrant show of force to the media during his press conference, but the mayor had insisted on it, not quite convinced just yet that the killer had been working on his own and not wanting, then, to take any chances until they were sure. 

 

He gazed out studiously into the sea of faces, recognizing several of them as top-tier news reporters from the three major local television stations, along with several well-known staff members of the morning and afternoon newspaper editions of Pittsburgh.  He could also see several mobile satellite trucks scattered throughout the street.  The street had gotten so congested earlier that some of his men had actually been forced to temporarily cordon it off for the rest of the afternoon due to the rapid buildup of media and just plain gawkers that were now accumulating all around the makeshift press conference site.

 

From his place behind a portable, wooden podium, he glanced down at the paperwork lying there.  He hated to make speeches and was horrible at speaking off the cuff.  It had taken only one time of being totally tongue-tied back when he was first appointed Sergeant of the precinct for him to decide going forward that he would never conduct any sort of news event without the crutch of at least having some sort of note system to refer to.  He would be making a brief statement today and then grudgingly follow it up with questions.  He would have preferred not to, but the mayor had issued a mandate that the police department needed to be more transparent and open to interaction with both the media and the public.  Of course, the fact that it was an election year and the mayor just happened to be up for re-election had nothing to do with it… Yeah, right, he thought cynically. 

 

He glanced down at his watch, noting it was 12:59 now.   He was a stickler for starting precisely on time, finding others who were procrastinators one of his greatest pet peeves.  Clearing his throat, he tapped the microphone a couple of times to verify it was live.  Hearing the telltale sound indicating that it was, he adjusted it slightly downward as the crowd grew noticeably quieter in expectation.  All morning there had been a distinct buzz that could be heard throughout the area as everyone had waited with anticipation over what the news conference would be about.  As usual, rumors had been running rampant as leaks emerged about a possible suspect in the case; now at last everyone was about to find out how much of their insider information was valid.

 

Horvath peered out steadily into the crowd, wincing slightly as he happened to stare directly into a bright spotlight before he spoke, his clear and authoritative voice belying the butterflies inside.   “My name is Sergeant Carl Horvath.  I’m in charge of the 16th Precinct of the Pittsburgh Police Department, which has been overseeing the investigation regarding a spate of child murders here in the metropolitan area for the past several weeks.  I will be issuing a brief statement first regarding some important developments in the case and then will open up the subsequent period for some questions.”

 

The crowd had become eerily silent now, despite the hundreds of people surrounding the podium as Carl began to issue his statement.  “This past Friday, as most of you are no doubt aware, an eighth child was abducted from Day Spring Elementary School at approximately 12:30 p.m.  This child was thought to be connected to the rash of child kidnappings and murders that have occurred within the Pittsburgh area during the past few months.”  He glanced over at his fellow policemen, noting their lips were tightly drawn together.  “I can report that this child, a six-year-old male, was found alive last night and is currently recuperating at a local hospital.  He is expected to make a full recovery.”

 

A collective gasp arose from the crowd at this unexpected bit of information as the noise level rose.   Carl raised his hands in a silent plea for the crowd to quiet down and waited several seconds before continuing.  “The identity of this child is being kept confidential at this time.”  Silently, however, Carl knew Gus Peterson-Marcus’s identity had already been compromised the other day when an Amber Alert had been issued for him.  But he was not going to advertise that fact today.

 

He took a deep breath.  “In addition, I can report the apprehension of a suspect in the murders of the seven boys and the kidnapping of the eighth victim this past Friday.”  The crowd once more buzzed excitedly as Carl raised his voice.  “Please,” he beseeched them as he held his hands up, “Hold your questions until the press conference is over,” he urged them, waiting silently as, steely-eyed, he stared them down.  Finally realizing they were not getting any more information until they did as they were told, the crowd once more fell silent as Carl waited to proceed.  “This person is currently being held in medical confinement and is being treated for injuries he sustained last night during his capture,” he told them.  “We have not been able to question the suspect at this time due to his condition.  In light of the need to preserve evidence in this case, I will not be at liberty to discuss all aspects of our investigation, but I will take some questions at this time.”

 

Instantly it was as if a dam had burst as the entire crowd started shouting questions all at once; Carl cringed as he tried to decipher one voice out of the dozens shouting loudly at him for attention.  He looked over at one of his detectives who had been helping on the case; he was trying hard to remain stone-faced; by the set of his jaw and his expression, however, Horvath could tell his detective was clearly disgusted by the sideshow occurring below them and was also uncomfortable in the presence of such mayhem.  He half expected to see a vendor selling cotton candy and plastic balloon animals any second as he pointed a stubby finger at a reporter he recognized from Station WPTS, a woman that he knew was a veteran and had a reputation for being level-headed and precise.  Before he could address her, though, he had to restore some sense of order.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen – I will END this press conference if you all insist on shouting at ONCE!” Carl bellowed; the crowd quickly died down as he focused his attention on the one reporter.  “Yes…. Ms. Winkleman.” 

 

“What can you tell us about the suspect that was arrested?” 

 

Carl waited a few seconds before he responded; he and Brian had discussed how much to divulge regarding Carruthers earlier and had agreed the information, for now at least, needed to be held as confidential as possible to protect their case.  “I am not releasing his name at this time,” Carl informed the crowd who groaned their disapproval.  “What I will say,” he spoke up to be heard above the din of disapproval, “What I WILL say is that he is a 41-year-old Caucasian male who was apprehended yesterday evening and evidence obtained on site leads us to firmly believe that we have the right suspect for this case in custody.”

 

The reporter persisted.  “What sort of evidence, Sergeant?”

 

Carl remained silent for a few seconds, carefully weighing his response.  “Again, I am limited at this time as to what exactly I can divulge, but I can tell you that the evidence found in the suspect’s residence directly links him to the murder victims.”  The crowd once more erupted into a mass of talking simultaneously as the volume rose dramatically; it was obvious they were clearly unhappy with the police sergeant’s evasiveness. 

 

Before the woman had a chance to follow-up with another question, Carl pointed to a tall, thin man directly behind her that he recognized from the Pittsburgh Beacon.  “Yes.”

 

“Sergeant, what can you tell us about the child who survived and was found last night?  What is his condition?”

 

 

Mel and Lindsey’s House – Same Time

 

From his place on the couch, Brian swallowed hard as he thought about his son.  He was profoundly grateful that Justin had helped find him in time, but hearing his sergeant talking about him while reporters pressed him for details brought home to him how close he had come to losing him.  He held his breath as he watched Horvath say, “As I said, he was brought in for medical attention last night and is doing well.  He is not expected to sustain any lasting repercussions from his ordeal.”  Brian was grateful that Carl had specifically not disclosed that his son was actually home from the hospital; the last thing they needed was for reporters to be camped directly outside Mel and Lindsay’s door.

 

“But the kidnapping occurred on Friday; where had he been held since then?” the reporter was asking.

 

“I can’t discuss that at the present time,” Horvath told the persistent man curtly.  “Just suffice to say that he was found and is expected to recover fully.”   He pointed to another familiar reporter as he said coolly, “Mr. Armstrong.”  Inwardly, Carl was cringing as he said the man’s name, however, because he knew the man’s reputation well.  He really did not want to even acknowledge the burly, stout, 50ish man who was practically standing in his personal space close to the podium, but he was well-versed in politics and knew the unsaid rules of proper etiquette.  If he didn’t pay equal respect to all the major media players in the city, he would quickly hear about it from both the mayor’s office as well as the Police Chief. 

 

Phil Armstrong, the long-time crime reporter for Station WXPA, was well-known throughout the community for his tenacious personality; over the course of twenty years’ experience working for the same television station, the man had developed numerous contacts throughout the Pittsburgh area in several key venues:  the hospitals, the morgue, the fire department, even several bars where the unseemly hung out.  And to Carl’s great consternation, he also seemed to have inside contacts with several police precincts, including his own.  He had tried diligently to determine who the mole was in his own precinct, but unfortunatelyhe had been unable so far to find out just who was feeding him confidential information.  He only hoped in this case the man hadn’t been able to find out too much regarding the child killer or it could deal a serious blow to their hopeful prosecution of the man.

 

To his disgust, however, Armstrong had apparently learned enough.  “My understanding, Sergeant, is that the child who was kidnapped this past Friday is the son of a detective on your own police force, and that HE was the one who wound up capturing him last night.  Is that correct?” 

 

Carl pursed his lips into a tight line as the crowd murmured loudly in response.  He again waited for the noise to die down before answering.  His worst fears had been realized; someone had compromised their vow to keep key information secret, and he was not happy.  It remained to be seen, however, just how much information this weasel of a man had discovered.  He sighed under his breath.  “Yes, that’s correct, Mr. Armstrong.  The child that was found last night is the son of one of my men here at the precinct.” 

 

“He’s the son of Detective Brian Kinney, isn’t that correct?”

 

“Fuck,” Brian muttered under his breath at the mention of his name as Lindsey came walking into the living room and sat down next to him on the couch; while Mel had ran down to her legal office to check on her caseload she had had to temporarily abandon, Lindsay had brought Gus back home and put their son into bed upstairs before joining Brian in front of the television.  She silently placed her hand over Brian’s wrist in empathy to help calm him as Horvath continued his press conference.

 

From his place at the podium, Carl winced inwardly.  Gus Peterson Marcus’s name had been plastered all over the news media once his disappearance had been discovered; after all, they had been publicizing it at the time in a desperate attempt to find him before it was too late.  He should have known he would not be able to keep his father’s identity a secret, then.  He HAD hoped that just HOW Gus had been rescued, and by whom, would be kept unknown, at least for a while.  Unfortunately, that was not going to be the case.  He and Brian had discussed that possibility and what they would do as a result. 

 

“Yes, that’s correct,” Carl finally admitted quietly.  “Detective Kinney was the detective who located his son last night and apprehended the suspect that is currently in custody.”  Horvath hurriedly pointed to another reporter, but Armstrong wasn’t easily dismissed. 

 

“I heard the suspect was shot, is that right, Sergeant?”

 

“Mother fucker,” Brian snarled at the disclosure of what should have been confidential information.  “How did he know that?”   He really wasn’t surprised, though; he also knew of Armstrong’s sleazy reputation, but it still didn’t prevent his blood from boiling at the thought that someone in his own precinct had apparently been bought for the right price.  “Someone’s been talking to him.”

 

Lindsay’s eyes widened.  “You mean someone at your police station?”

 

Brian glared at the man on the screen.  “That’s exactly what I mean,” he growled.  “And when I find out who it is, he’s going to wish he’d never been born.”  He turned his attention back to the television screen as his sergeant continued.

 

“I am not at liberty to discuss the suspect’s injuries at this time, Mr. Armstrong,” he heard Carl say tersely.  “All I will say is that Detective Kinney was required to discharge his weapon during the course of the suspect’s capture, and as per proper department protocol, he has been placed on administrative leave until our internal investigation is over.” 

 

“But…”

 

Carl turned deliberately toward the other side of the podium, purposely ignoring the obnoxious reporter; politics be damned.  Directing his attention toward a fashionably-dressed, redheaded woman he recognized as a newspaper reporter from the Steel City Gazette, Mona Hankins, he pointed his finger at her.  “Ms. Hankins.”

 

She peered up at him through her half-rimmed glasses to ask, “Sergeant, what led to the suspect’s discovery?  We had been told for weeks now that the killer had been able to effectively hide his tracks and there were no substantial leads.  What broke in this case to result in his capture?”

 

Carl smiled.  “Now, Ms. Hankins, I’m sure you realize I can’t divulge that information at this time; the last thing I’m going to do is jeopardize our case.  Everything you need to know will come out eventually once the case goes to trial.”  Inwardly, however, Carl wondered if Carruthers ever would go to trial; he had certainly seen enough of mentally unstable suspects in the past to recognize the telltale symptoms, and Carruthers had the same type of symptoms.  Add to that the fact that he killed his own son accidentally and his wife died from cancer, and you had the right mixture to have him declared incompetent to stand trial.  He wasn’t about to disclose that at the press conference, though, nor to Brian and the other parents who had had to endure such pain and grief over the loss of their child.

 

As the crowd’s volume surged once more, Carl knew he could stand there all afternoon as they fired off questions at him, if he let them.  He put his hands up with finality.  “That’s all for now, ladies and gentlemen.”  As several members of the crowd continued to lob frantic questions at him, he turned and strode purposefully toward the building’s entrance door, studiously ignoring their continuing cries for answers as the four uniformed cops followed him.  As soon as he opened the door and stepped inside to be greeted by relative quiet, he sighed in relief.  No matter how many encounters he had with the press, he would always loathe them.  He always made him feel like a guppy in a sea of piranhas.  “Damn bloodsuckers,” he muttered, scowling as he shook his head in disgust.  At least he had gotten away with not disclosing anything about the man who had almost singlehandedly tracked Carruthers down.  How long he would be able to do that, however, was open to question.  For now, though, Justin Taylor’s role in the case was safely obscured, providing the young man with at least a little more time.  If Carruthers did go to trial, though, that would all be quickly shot to hell.  Sighing, he turned to walk back down to his office.

 

Justin and Daphne’s Apartment – Same Time

 

Justin breathed out a huge sigh of relief; he was sorry to see that Brian’s name – and his son’s – had to be front and center during the press conference, but at least he was sure Brian could more than handle any notoriety he might receive as a result.  He, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to be in the spotlight at all.  For now it appeared he had thankfully been spared any degree of attention. 

 

Daphne walked back into the living room with a couple of glasses of ice tea.  Handing one to her friend, she plopped down next to him on the couch.  “He managed to keep your name out of it,” she observed as Justin accepted one of the glasses and nodded. 

 

“Thank God,” he said fervently.  “My heart was hammering in my chest the whole fucking time.  I was so scared my role in this whole thing was going to come out, along with my name.”   He placed his glass down on a round coaster on their coffee table and turned to look at his friend.  “Daphne, I know this sounds awful, but I really hope Carruthers doesn’t pull through; just the thought of having to testify against him and seeing him in the courtroom face to face, terrifies me.” 

 

Daphne gazed into his troubled blue eyes.  “I know,” she whispered sympathetically.  “That would be awful.” 

 

His drink quickly forgotten, Justin pulled his legs up and hugged them to his chest.  “I’m glad that Brian’s son is okay, don’t get me wrong.  I’m grateful that I was able to help find him.  But sometimes I just wish I could get rid of this burden.  Sometimes I wish I could give this fucking ‘gift’ to someone else.”

 

Daphne placed her own glass down next to Justin’s and placed her hand at the back of Justin’s neck to lightly ruffle her friend’s hair.  “I know,” she said.  “I’m sure it’s a curse in a lot of ways.  But think about it this way, Justin.  If you hadn’t had the ability to convey what you see in your head down on paper, the cops wouldn’t have taken you seriously at all and you might have never had the chance to help find Brian’s son.”  She snorted.  “Brian thought you were a phony for a long time; if Sergeant Horvath hadn’t accepted the possibility that you really were telling the truth, they might have never found his son.  That asshole owes you a big debt of gratitude, Justin.”

 

Aggravated, Justin turned his head to stare into Daphne’s eyes.  “He knows what it meant, Daphne,” he told his friend just a little too harshly.  “He HAS thanked me.  And he believes in me now, too.  You don’t really know him.”

 

“Like YOU do?” Daphne retorted, still perturbed over Kinney’s attitude.  “Justin, just be careful with him.  You don’t really know what his motives are.”  She softened her voice as she looked into her friend’s face.  “I care about you, Justin.  I just don’t want to see you get hurt, that’s all.” 

 

“You didn’t see him when his son was missing, Daphne,” Justin insisted.  “He was torn up; it was like he was a totally different person.  I know – he comes off as arrogant and cocky all the time.   But that’s just a façade; there’s a lot more to him than that, I know there is.”  Daphne noticed her friend actually blushing as he told her, “He sat next to me in Horvath’s office the entire time I was there giving my statement today; he could tell I was getting upset over having to relive what had happened, and,” he smiled a little shyly as he added, “he held my hand to reassure me the whole time… Out of his sergeant’s line of sight,” he added.

 

Daphne’ eyes widened in surprise.  That was certainly not what she would have expected.  She could tell Justin was definitely warming up to the brash but handsome detective; but was it just possible the feeling was becoming mutual?  “He did?”

 

Justin nodded with a grin.  “Yeah, he did.”

 

“Wow… No shit,” she said softly in astonishment.  Perhaps it WAS just possible that there was more to Brian Kinney than she realized.  “I admit that does surprise me.  But he should be supporting you – after all, you saved his son’s life.”

 

Justin shook his head slightly.  “There’s more to it than that,” he insisted.  “He’s not just staying by my side out of a sense of gratitude.”  He stared into her friend’s chocolate-colored eyes before admitting, “He asked me to go to a Pirates doubleheader with him and Gus this Saturday.”

 

“Like on a date?”

 

Justin shrugged, but his face again turned a definite shade of pink as he said, “I don’t know about THAT.  He just said he could get some good seats for the three of us and asked me to go. He had promised Gus he would take him before all this happened, and I think including me is his way of at least partially paying me back for helping to find his son.”  Secretly, however, Justin hoped there was more to it than that; he was finding that every time he and Brian parted, he was thinking of the next time he could see him again.  And while he was still somewhat nervous about seeing Brian in a more social capacity, there was no doubt that he was definitely looking forward to it.  Already, he was finding himself worrying about what he should wear; God, he had never agonized over that before!  Why was it so important now?   

 

“Justin?” He looked over, flustered, as he realized Daphne was calling his name.

 

“Yeah?”

 

She smiled, not failing to observe his distracted state.  “Justin Taylor, I do believe you’re smitten with that cocky son of a bitch.”

 

Justin laughed self-consciously.  “Smitten?  That sounds so middle school.”

 

“Well?” she pressed, her eyes boring into his, not backing down until she got an answer.

 

Justin rolled his eyes before grudgingly admitting,   “Okay… I DO find him interesting.”

 

She shook her head, still not totally convinced of the other man’s motives.   “Just be careful, Justin; you really don’t know him very well.  He still might only be doing all this just because he feels like he owes you now.”

 

Justin sighed.  “Just give him a chance, okay?  I wasn’t too impressed with him at first, either, if you remember.” 

 

“Yeah, I remember,” Daphne told him with concern.  She sighed in resignation.  “Okay, for you I’ll do it.  But I’m going to be watching your back.  At least I don’t think he’ll pull anything at the ballgame, not with his son with him.”

 

“My hero,” Justin grinned as he playfully shoved her down onto the couch with his hand. 

 

 

Alleghany Memorial Hospital – Downtown – One Hour Later

 

Satterwhite and Rogers straightened up as they observed their police sergeant striding toward them, his jaw set with determination.  “Sergeant,” Satterwhite responded with a curt nod, all business now.

 

“Satterwhite, Rogers,” Horvath greeted them, observing curiously that the door to Carruthers’ room was presently closed.   “What’s going on?  Why is the door closed?” 

 

“The doctor’s in there with him,” Satterwhite told him.  “I’m not sure what’s going on.  I heard some kind of alarm sound a while ago and then a nurse rushed in, along with the doctor right afterward.  They’ve been in there ever since.”

 

“Shit,” Carl spat out, afraid the fucker would die on him before he had a chance to question him about his motives; he had no doubt that this was the killer, but he needed more information from him.  He couldn’t let him die without providing all those grieving parents with an answer as to why he had done what he had done. 

 

Just then, he heard the door being opened as a tall, distinguished-looking, salt-and-pepper haired man who appeared to be around his own age emerged; he was wearing a doctor’s white jacket and had a stethoscope around his neck as he carried a metal patient flip chart in his left hand.  The name L. Fields was emblazoned on an officially-looking hospital badge clipped to his jacket lapel.

 

Carl reached into his inside suit jacket pocket to retrieve his bi-fold wallet.  “Doctor?” he said, flipping his wallet open to display his I.D. card and police badge as he intercepted him.  “I’m Sergeant Carl Horvath with the Pittsburgh Police Department.  My men are the ones in charge of guarding our suspect in there.  Has his condition changed?” 

 

The doctor eyed Horvath’s I.D. carefully before lifting his gaze to study the chiseled face.  “This way,” he instructed as he held his hand out toward the hallway.  Horvath turned to his men briefly to advise them to remain where they were as he turned to follow the doctor down the hallway a few feet until they came to a door marked Consultation.  The doctor turned the door knob to open the door and led Horvath into a square-shaped room containing two sets of standard hospital-issued, dark-gray vinyl chairs facing perpendicular to each other.  “Take a seat,” he politely instructed Horvath as he took his place in one of the opposite seats.

 

He waited until Horvath sat down before he flipped the chart open to study a few notes and peer over at the sergeant to say, “You realize you’re asking me to release confidential medical information regarding a patient, Sergeant.  Despite what this man might be accused of having done, he is still protected by HIPAA regulations.”

 

Carl nodded, anticipating that would be the response.  He reached inside his outside suit pocket to retrieve a folded piece of paper.  “This is a court order granting me full medical disclosure regarding our suspect’s condition,” he informed the doctor as he extended it toward the other man.  He had managed to have the emergency court order signed by a judge earlier in the day for use as the basis for his initial inquiry when Carruthers had first been brought into the hospital.  “Now… What is Carruthers’ condition?”

 

The doctor accepted the legal document and scanned it to verify its authenticity.  Apparently satisfied as to its legitimacy, he handed it back to Horvath as he said, “Mr. Carruthers has been upgraded from critical to guarded condition.  His injuries were quite extensive, so his recovery period will be slow.  He did have a minor setback earlier this afternoon.”

 

“What type of setback?”  Carl inquired with concern.  He didn’t want Carruthers to have the privilege of checking out without justice being served; that would be too easy considering the heartbreak he had caused for so many.

 

Dr. Fields glanced down at his notes before advising, “He regained consciousness for a brief period earlier, but was demonstrating signs of extreme agitation; he was thrashing around on the bed and pushing against his restraints.  As a result, his vitals spiked and he had to be sedated, so he is currently unconscious again.”

 

“What caused his agitation?”  Carl wondered out loud.  What had happened since he had been told the man was slowly recovering and appearing to be waking up?  He had been counting on the opportunity to question him after the press conference. 

 

The doctor shook his head.  “The nurse who was first on the scene isn’t sure; he was making vocalizations but was not really saying anything intelligible, plus he still has a tube down his throat to help him breathe.  From his actions and the expression on his face, though, he appeared to be extremely distressed, even angry.  It’s not totally unexpected at times, however, when patients are restrained and first discover they’re held in place involuntarily.  That could have been the reason for his reaction.” 

 

Carl digested this new information; was that the reason?  Or was there more to it than that?  He had been exposed to enough murderers throughout his career to know that he wasn’t about to try and decipher what was going through this man’s distorted mind, however.  He would never understand why people committed murder, especially against defenseless, innocent children.  “Is he still expected to recover?” he asked urgently, wanting desperately to get a chance to interrogate him. 

 

The doctor calmly stated, “Well, barring any unforeseen episodes or more severe setbacks, yes, I am cautiously optimistic that in time he will make a full recovery.  But he did incur some serious external and internal injuries and had to have his spleen removed, so I anticipate it will be a slow process.”

 

“How slow?” Carl asked impatiently. 

 

“Hard to say, Sergeant.  It depends upon how quickly his body heals and how he continues to respond to treatment.”

 

Carl tried to keep the exasperation out of his voice as he prodded, “Well, what is your best estimate, then, Doctor?  This is a very serious police matter.” 

 

The doctor nodded tersely.  He had seen the press conference earlier that had been telecast live over the web on his laptop and he had easily been able to put two and two together; his patient HAD to be the man they suspected of being the notorious child killer of so many young boys over the past several weeks.  He could sympathize with the sergeant’s position, but first and foremost his patient came first.  Despite what he might feel toward a man who might be capable of such horrific acts, he had a responsibility to take care of the man.  “Hard to say, Sergeant.  Maybe a week, maybe two – could be even a month.  I’m not going to rush his care and jeopardize his health.”  He thought he heard his visitor scoff at his response.

 

Carl huffed out an angry breath; he understood the doctor’s position.  He had a job to do.  Well, so did he, along with an impatient, outraged population that wanted answers.  “I need to talk to him.  How soon can you make that happen?”

 

“If you mean interrogate him, Sergeant, I can’t allow that until I’m sure it won’t cause his condition to deteriorate.” 

 

“Doctor, I need more than a circuitous explanation from you!” Carl retorted, his voice rising slightly in disgust.  Why was it that the perpetrator – alleged perpetrator – always had more rights than the victims did?  “What is your best estimate, then, as to when he will be alert – and strong – enough to be questioned?  Surely you can give me that.”

 

The doctor huffed out a perturbed breath as he tightly grasped the metal file chart in his hands.  Finally, he responded curtly, “I don’t know.   Maybe in a day or so.  Again, it will depend upon how his recuperation progresses.”

 

Carl brushed one stubby hand through his bald head in frustration and sighed.  “All right, Doctor.  But I need to have access to him as soon as he’s capable of being questioned, do you understand?  And in the meantime, he will be guarded around the clock by a couple of my men, 24/7.”

 

The doctor glared at him, not really wanting to be on opposing sides of the law but needing to uphold his own duties.  “I understand.  But you also need to understand that I won’t allow that until I’m sure it won’t endanger his life.” 

 

Carl stood up, knowing he wasn’t going to get what he, Brian, and everyone else wanted so badly – some answers, at least not in the immediate future.  “Okay, Doctor.  But I will be checking in on a regular basis until I gain access to Carruthers.   And I expect to be told the minute he’s available for questioning.” 

 

The doctor also stood up as he sighed.  “I understand.  As soon as I feel he’s strong enough – and lucid enough – to respond to your questions, you will be notified.”

 

Carl nodded curtly as he turned and headed toward the door, unhappy with his inability to question the suspect.  As he opened the door and walked out, leaving the doctor behind, he turned back down the hall toward Carruthers’ room, observing his two men, Satterwhite and Rogers, still flanking either side of the door. 

 

“What did the doctor say, Sarge?” Satterwhite asked his superior curiously as Rogers listened in intently.  Carl noticed the suspect’s door was still closed. 

 

“Did you observe anything unusual happen today regarding the suspect?” he brusquely asked both men without any preamble, his displeasure still apparent on his face. 

 

“What sort of thing, Sarge?” Rogers interjected, his voice just a little shaky.

 

“Anything that would have caused Carruthers to become agitated to the point where they had to sedate the bastard.”

 

Both men exchanged an indecipherable look among themselves before Satterwhite answered, “No, Sarge.  Everything’s been quiet as a mouse around here; just the typical hospital sounds.”

 

“And no one has been in his room except for nurses and doctors?”

 

Both men appeared shocked even at the insinuation.  “Of course not, Sergeant!” Rogers said as Satterwhite nodded in agreement.  “One of us has been here the whole time, and no one other than uniformed personnel – with proper identification badges – has been in his room, I swear.”

 

Carl eyed both men intently, feeling there was something amiss but not quite able to put his finger on it.  The two men fidgeted a little uncomfortably under his intense scrutiny as he continued to study them before he finally said, “Okay.  Make sure you tell your replacements that no one – I mean, NO ONE – who is not authorized to enter his room is allowed to gain access.  The last thing we need is for some fucking reporter to try and show up in some disguise to get into his room for some sensationalized lead on the evening news.  You understand?”

 

Both men nodded, secretly relieved that their previous indiscretion had not been discovered.  Satterwhite was too close to retirement to have anything fuck it up, and Rogers needed his job too badly to admit that he had been openly discussing the suspect’s case with his older co-worker.  “Yes, Sir,” Satterwhite responded politely as Rogers nodded his concurrence. 

 

Carl stared at both men for a few seconds longer before he nodded.  “And tell them to call me if the suspect’s condition changes.  I want to be told immediately.”  As both men nodded their understanding, he turned and headed slowly back down the hallway toward the elevators.  As soon as he was out of range, Rogers turned nervously to his fellow cop.

 

“You think that fucker heard what we said before?” he asked apprehensively. 

 

Satterwhite shrugged.  “Who knows?  Maybe.  But we can’t take it back now.  And you need to keep your trap shut about it.  You want to lose your fucking job, Rogers?”

 

The younger man shook his head.  “Hell, no!” he answered vociferously.  “I got a brand new kid; I need this job.”   

 

“Well, if you know what’s good for you, then, you’ll keep quiet.  We don’t know what he was upset about; you got that?”

 

“Yeah,” Rogers said quietly.  “I got it.” 

 

The two men stood there silently, both hoping their lack of foresight wouldn’t be discovered as they waited impatiently for their replacements to arrive so they could leave.  It had been a long day…. A very long day.

Chapter Text

Saturday Morning – 11:30 – Outside Justin and Daphne’s Apartment

 

Brian gazed fondly at his son in the backseat as they pulled up in front of Justin’s apartment; Gus was wearing a brand-new Pirates cap and kid’s baseball jersey that he had purchased for him yesterday at the sports apparel shop downtown.  The cap was a welcome replacement for the one he had carried around last weekend when Gus had been missing, a period that has been without a doubt the worst of his life, and this outing today was going to be an effective way to replace that horrible memory with a very happy one.  As he gazed now into his son’s glowing, excited face, it made it much easier to forget that awful period and he couldn’t help returning his little boy’s smile with one of his own.  “Let’s go get Justin, Sonny Boy, and then we’ll be ready to go to the game, okay?”

 

“Yay!” Gus cried in delight as Brian unbuckled his seatbelt and emerged from the sedan to open his son’s door.  He released Gus from the seat as the child scampered out onto the sidewalk and boisterously shut the door behind him.  Brian laughed at his child’s eagerness as he took his son’s hand to walk up the cement sidewalk to Justin’s apartment building, Gus tugging on his arm in an effort to hurry him up. 

 

He buzzed the front door and waited a few seconds before he heard a familiar voice.  “Brian?”

 

“Yeah, it’s me and Gus.”

 

“I’ll be right down,” Justin answered through the intercom as he turned to pick up his lightweight, beige jacket from the back of a nearby chair to sling it over his shoulder and pick up his keys.  Daphne eyed him warily from her place on the couch, her reservations clearing broadcasting her concern as he rolled his eyes and smiled.   “It’ll be fine, Mom,” he teased.  “He’s got his son with him; what could happen?”

 

Daphne snorted.  “Oh, he could find a way,” she assured him cynically.  “Just watch yourself.”

 

Justin grinned.  “Yes, Ma’am,” he politely responded as Daphne threw one of their couch pillows at him.  He laughed as he threw it back at her and she deftly caught it.  “Watch it – we don’t have any money to throw around,” he quipped.  I’ll be back later,” he promised.

 

“Well, if you’re not back by 6:00 I’m calling your cell phoneevery hour until you are,” she vowed as Justin’s grin widened.  “This is not funny, Justin.  I still say he’s an asshole.”

 

Justin opened the door to leave, but before he left, he turned to look at her with one more parting remark.  “Maybe… But he’s a gorgeous asshole.”  He winked at her before he quickly closed the door and rushed down the short upstairs hallway toward the steps.  He halted just before he was about to take them two at a time, chiding himself for seeming too overeager.  He took a deep breath before forcing himself to slowly and methodically descend the steps instead, feeling his heartbeat speed up as he detected Brian and his son standing on the front stoop through the frosted glass of the apartment building door.  He licked his lips a little nervously as he arrived at the landing, taking one more deep breath before he turned to slowly open it.

 

Brian’s breath hitched in his throat as Justin opened the door.  He was wearing a form-fitting, long-sleeved navy-blue, round-necked cable sweater and a pair of tight, dark-blue jeans that hugged every delightful curve of his slender body.  He had the sleeves pushed up to his elbows, exposing the pale, creamy-colored skin that contrasted dramatically with the darkness of the sweater.  The dark blue color of the fabric seemed to make his light blue eyes pop as the two locked gazes for several seconds.  Brian thought he was the most delectable piece of male specimen he had ever seen as he found himself inexplicably, momentarily speechless.

 

Justin smiled back at him shyly as his eyes took a quick trip down the length of ‘Brianville.’  The detective was wearing a black leather bomber jacket over a denim, button-down shirt, the top two buttons undone into a V to display a thatch of bronze skin underneath.  He was wearing black jeans that seemed to be sprayed on him, revealing a definitely impressive bulge underneath.  As his eyes quickly darted back up to stare into Brian’s, he felt his face grow hot as he realized his unspoken appreciation hadn’t gone unnoticed when the other man smirked at him slightly.

 

“Daddy!  It’s time to go!”  Gus’s entreated as he tugged on his father’s shirt and broke the spell between the two men as Brian redirected his gaze down to his son and his face broke out into a tender smile.  “Okay, Sonny Boy, we’re going!”  He lifted his eyes to look over at Justin, the smile still on his face.  “Can’t keep the Number One Pirates’ fan waiting - ready to go, Mr. Taylor?”

 

Justin smiled back at him and nodded as the three turned and fell into a companionable walk back toward Brian’s car.  Gus once more firmly planted back in his booster seat in the back a minute later, the two men entered  the front seat of the car as Brian asked, “Have you ever been to the stadium before?”

 

Justin nodded his head.  “Yeah, but it’s been a long time ago.  My dad took me a lot when I played Little League.” 

 

Brian nodded.  “Yeah, I was on the baseball team in junior high,” he admitted with a smile.  “But I found out the hottest guys were on the soccer team, so it didn’t take me long to switch sports.”

 

Justin chuckled.  “Why am I not surprised?” he mused as Brian grinned back at him briefly, his eyes actually twinkling with mischief. 

 

Brian started up the car and slowly pulled out into traffic as he asked, “So how big a family do you have?”  He snuck a peek at his son in the backseat, noticing that he was currently occupied with the glove and baseball that he had insisted on bringing with him in hopes that he could either catch another ball or get the one he had autographed some more.  He smiled fondly at the little boy before Justin responded. 

 

“Just my mom and dad and my sister, Molly,” Justin answered quietly, his voice sounding a little strained. 

 

Brian turned to glance over at him, noting a strange tone to his voice.  “What?” he asked softly, picking up immediately on Justin’s hesitation. 

 

“Nothing,” Justin answered cryptically.  As Brian continued to stare at him pointedly, however, Justin sighed in resignation.  “I don’t really count my dad as part of my family anymore.”

 

Brian frowned as he turned his attention back to the road.  “Why not?”

 

“Well, two reasons I guess.  Number one – my dad couldn’t handle having a queer son.  As soon as he found out, you might say that was the last straw.  But even before that, I knew that my ability to see things unnerved him.  He never came out and said it, but I could tell he thought I was some sort of freak or something.”  Justin sighed again softly, the pain still fresh even now.  “I’m not sure he ever really believed I could see things in my mind; I think he thought that I was somehow a lucky guesser or something.”  He swallowed hard before adding, “I haven’t talked to him in a few years now.” 

 

“He’s a shithead,” Brian muttered emphatically, glancing back at Gus to see if he was listening; fortunately, though, his son seemed fascinated at the moment with his baseball gear as he continually patted the glove with the ball like he was trying out for catcher.  “Just like my own father.”

 

Justin’s eyes widened in surprise.  “Your father rejected you because you were gay, too?”

 

Brian snorted.  “Not quite.  Let’s just say he liked to use me as his own personal punching bag ever since I was little.  He still stays in touch, though, at least when he needs money for his booze.  He doesn’t even know I’m gay – he thinks I’m some macho, shoot-em-up butch cop, not some fag.”

 

Justin didn’t know whether to laugh at that or pity Brian for it.  Ultimately he chose to merely gaze back at him with a mixture of sorrow and understanding.  He certainly knew how it felt to have an uncaring prick for a father; it seemed he and Brian had that in common.  “I had no idea,” he finally murmured.

 

Brian shrugged.  “It’s no big deal; he pretty much stays out of my way unless he needs some money.  I pay him off and he leaves me alone until he needs another favor.  Works like a charm every time.”

 

“But Gus…”

 

Brian let out an angry breath.  “My son deserves better,” he declared flatly.  “He knows he’s loved and cared for by his mothers and by me.  That’s all he needs; he doesn’t need that kind of grandfather.”

 

“What about your mother?” Justin asked softly as he looked over at Brian’s strong profile.  He noticed a slight change in Brian’s expression – a pained emotion flitting across his face briefly as he retorted, “My mother the holier-than-thou ice queen?  She’s not much better than my alcoholic father.”  He snorted.  “In fact, she could probably drink my old man under the table.  Sacramental wine isn’t the only booze she imbibes in.  She shows less emotion toward me than Hal does in 2001:  A Space Odyssey.”

 

Justin did have to laugh this time at the unexpected reference to a science fiction movie robot.  “You like that movie?” he asked with a smile, seeing Brian’s face break out into an amused expression.

 

Brian nodded.  “Yeah, actually, I do.  What about you?”

 

“Well, if you ignore the fact that it’s ancient,” he said, evoking a glare from Brian who didn’t quite see it that way, “It’s pretty good.  I’ve watched it a few times.  I like animated movies better, though,” he admitted.  “I’d like to be a graphic artist one day, so I like to watch them for the details I can observe.” 

 

Brian grinned.  “You analyze them?  They’re movies, Justin, not dissected pigs.”

 

Justin chuckled.  “I know,” he said a little sheepishly.  “But I like to see how all the components come together to make the film work.” He shrugged.  “I can’t help it – it’s in my blood.”  Brian smiled and shook his head as Justin asked, “What about you?”

 

Brian glanced in the rearview mirror at his son, noticing he was now coloring in his Stuart Little coloring book.  He grinned at his son’s image before saying, “What about me?”

 

“Is being a detective in YOUR blood?” Justin asked curiously, enjoying being able to talk to Brian outside his normal hectic world of police work and still inordinately curious about the other man.

 

Brian studied that question for a moment.  “Do you mean did I know this was what I wanted to be when I grew up?” he quipped.  He directed his gaze over at Justin for a brief moment as the blond nodded.  “No, not really,” he confessed.  “I didn’t take any law classes or had any official law enforcement training while I was in college.  I was supposed to go into business, maybe advertising.”

 

Justin frowned.  “So how did you wind up being a police detective?”  He watched as Brian’s face hardened, wondering if he had said something wrong.  He chose to remain silent for the time being to give Brian time to respond.

 

He wasn’t sure if he would get an answer for a few moments until finally Brian said, “My best friend in college wound up being murdered one night when he was walking home from a bar off-campus a few blocks away.  He had so much going for him.  He had all these grandiose dreams of changing the world.  He was going to enroll in the fucking Peace Corps after he got out of college with his education degree.  Had about a month left to go.”  He sighed painfully, the recollection of that night still fresh and raw in his mind.  “He had actually lent his car to his brother the week before, because the guy had a wife expecting a baby any moment and his own car was on the fritz.  Mike told his brother to go ahead and take the car for a while because he said he could walk wherever he needed to go.”  Brian bit his lower lip with his teeth before advising, “He was coming back to our dorm room around 1 a.m. that night after playing some pool with our friends.  He never made it back there.  Someone jumped him in a dark back alley, stabbed him to death and stole his wallet; all for a lousy, fucking 30 bucks.”  He inhaled a shaky breath and shook his head at the painful recollection.  “His life was worth a stinking 30 dollars.”  He swallowed hard before saying more softly, “It took the police about a month of just plain, hard, grunt work by a persistent detective to track down who did it, but he did.  Thanks to him, the guy was convicted and sentenced to death row; of course, that means he’ll probably be sitting there for the next 10 years or so before he’s finally executed.  But that was when I decided I wanted to make a difference, too, and go after the bad guys, kind of in tribute to him, I guess, so I enrolled in the police academy.  Later after I graduated, Horvath promoted me to detective and I’ve been doing that ever since.” 

 

Justin stared at him in astonishment.  He would have never guessed in a million years that this was the reason why Brian had become a police detective, but it made sense in a way.  He would have guessed Brian had pursued police work because of the thrill and the heady, powerful feeling it gave him. This seemingly callous, indifferent, brash, and cocky man was really nothing like that at all; it was merely a façade, a ruse to maintain his proper role as a member of the police force.  It was a professional persona, a clever disguise, but it didn’t begin to tell the true story of just who Brian Kinney the man really was.  “I’m sorry,” Justin told him sincerely.  “That must have been awful for you.  But you made some good come out of it.”

 

One side of Brian’s mouth twisted up as he gazed over at Justin in surprise.  No one had ever really put a spin on it like he had.  “Yeah, I guess so,” he admitted as he locked his eyes on Justin’s for a moment before turning them back to the road, afraid he might give too much of his feelings away.

 

“Daddy?”

 

Their serious discussion was interrupted by a voice in the backseat.  “Yeah, Buddy?”

 

“I’m getting hungry.” Gus reported simply.

 

Brian laughed, grateful for a diversion from his and Justin’s serious discussion.  “Why am I not surprised?  We’re about a mile from the stadium,” he explained to Justin with a smile.  “It’s like he has some kind of hot dog radar or something.”  Justin grinned back at him as Brian told his son, “Ready for a hot dog, then?”

 

“Yeah!” Gus cried out in delight, his voice getting louder and more excited as he continued.  “A hot dog and some French fries!  And a chocolate milk shake!”  He stared over thoughtfully at Justin in the passenger seat.  “Can Jus’n have some, too, Daddy?”

 

Brian and Justin grinned at each other as Brian said, “He sure can, Buddy, if that’s what he wants.”  He added under his breath, “I knew I should have gone to an ATM machine first.”  He heard Justin laugh then, a wonderful throaty kind of laugh, and it did some strange things to his insides as he turned to look at his face that was almost glowing with unexpectedly carefree happiness.  It was probably the first time he had seen such a relaxed look on Justin’s face and he found himself captivated by it.  He must have given some of his thoughts away just then, because he noticed Justin’s eyes widen slightly and his face turn a slight shade of pink as he averted his eyes away from him.

 

From his place in the passenger seat, Justin turned to stare out from the side window, not trusting himself to look back into Brian’s mesmerizing chocolate eyes.  God, the man was beautiful, especially when he left all his worries temporarily behind and smiled!  The effect his son had on him was amazing; it wasn’t until that moment just now that he actually realized how much Gus meant to him; oh, he had known Brian loved him the other day when he had shown up unexpectedly on his apartment doorstep with that look of abject misery and desperation on his face.  But as he watched the incredible transformation on Brian’s face as he interacted with his son, it was as if he were seeing a completely different man and he was positively captivated by it.  Careful, Justin, or your heart may just wind up being captivated, too, he couldn’t help warning himself as he felt his pulse quicken in reaction and his farm warm in response. 

 

He was spared any further analyzing of his feelings about Brian Kinney as they entered the stadium’s parking garage and Gus excitedly shouted out, “We’re here, Daddy!” 

 

“Yeah, we are, Sonny Boy,” Brian told him with a tender smile.  Minutes later, they had located a fairly convenient parking space and shortly emerged from the vehicle; Brian had to quickly grab a squirming, impatient Gus with his hand before he threatened to scamper off without him.  The little boy constantly pulled on his father’s arm the entire way to the stadium entrance gate, anxious to get inside and start experiencing his big adventure, as Justin followed closely behind, enjoying simply watching the loving relationship being displayed in front of him by father and son.  He was still entranced by the patient, gentle manner Brian had with his son, who obviously adored him.  He couldn’t help smiling as he watched Brian reach down and adjust the precariously-placed cap on his son’s head, lightly ruffling the brown head briefly before he placed the cap back on top at just the right angle before they entered through the gate’s turnstile.

 

Gus was still wearing his baseball glove on his hand as they entered, the baseball now at least firmly tucked into Brian’s leather jacket pocket for safekeeping; after all, a little boy could hardly eat a hot dog and French fries with both hands full.  Brian finally convinced him to let him hold his glove for safekeeping, too, at least until after he had eaten as they approached a nearby food stand to place their order.

 

A few minutes later, Brian was now clutching his son’s baseball glove as Gus happily munched on his hot dog slathered generously with mustard and sipped on his chocolate shake; Justin held a sturdy cardboard tray holding his own food as well as Gus’s French fries while they searched for a place in which to sit.  They finally located a vacant, round metal table with some seats attached in a curved pattern over by the corner and walked over to place their food down.  Brian turned his nose up in distaste as he whipped out a couple of napkins to wipe down the dirty-looking seat before gingerly sitting down next to Justin; Gus plopped down opposite them and instantly grabbed a couple of French fries bathed in ketchup as he slurping noisily through his straw and Brian laughed softly at his son’s enthusiasm.

 

Justin was about to bite into his own hot dog when he noticed Brian squirming in his seat and a few seconds later he felt the warmth of his thigh touching his on the bench seat.  It was as if a hot fire brand had suddenly been pressed against his flesh as his entire body came alive at the seemingly innocent contact and his heart skipped a beat.  He stopped, his hand holding the hot dog up next to his lips, as he glanced over at Brian to see if he had noticed, but Brian was apparently unaffected as he stared over at his son with a tender smile instead.

 

Brian, however, had definitely been affected, and while he would deny to his dying day that he was flirting with him, his seemingly accidental brushing up against Justin’s thigh had been anything but unintentional.  He had clearly remembered the effect merely holding the blond’s hand had had on him earlier at the police station, and he wanted to know if that had simply been a fluke.  Something told him it hadn’t been, but he had to know for sure.  His answer was instantaneous and without any possibility of doubt as he pressed his thigh up against the denim-clad one next to his and felt the same type of electric jolt that he had felt before when their hands had touched.  He could hear Justin’s soft, ragged breathing in response and could see him staring back at him out of the corner of his eye, wondering if he, too, had felt something, but he purposefully chose to act as if he was unaffected by the whole thing.  He wasn’t sure why, but he wasn’t quite certain how to react to this unexpectedly strong feeling he had and it frankly scared the shit out of him.  He never allowed another man to affect him this way, and he knew there was much more to this than just mere physical attraction.  He urgently wanted to see just how much more there was to it, however, as he silently resolved to find out very soon. 

 

He continued to watch his son devouring his meal as his thigh remained firmly pressed up against Justin’s; between his son’s obvious delight at being at the ballgame and now fully recovered, and Justin sitting next to him and apparently not making any effort to move away, he was beginning to rather enjoy himself.  He felt himself relaxing finally now that Carruthers was firmly in custody and he was able to detach himself from all the pressure and stress his job constantly gave him.  He could almost feel the turmoil sliding off his shoulders as he allowed himself the luxury of indulging in what millions of other Americans did:  coming out to the stadium to watch a ballgame in a pleasant, sunny, late-autumn day.  He sighed in relief; so glad to be away from all the drama.  He turned to notice Justin staring back at him silently. “What?” he asked curiously.

 

Justin smiled softly.   “Nothing… It’s just that you’re so different when you ‘re not playing cops and robbers.” 

 

Gus eyed his father curiously across the table, French fry in hand as he huffed out, “I do NOT play cops and robbers, Mr. Taylor; I take my job very seriously, I’ll have you know.”

 

Justin grinned.  “Believe me, I DO know.  It’s just that you’re like two separate people when you’re at the police station versus when you’re with your son.” 

 

Brian shrugged as he turned to stare into the thoughtful blue eyes.  “When I’m on a case, I’m on it 100% of the time.  When I’m not on a case, I can play just like all the other queers.”

 

Justin didn’t know what gave him the courage to say it, but he found himself responding, “And just what sort of games do you like to play, Detective Kinney?”

 

His eyes widened and he swallowed hard as he watched Brian lean in closer, his breath ghosting over his face as he whispered, “Wait until later and I’ll be glad to demonstrate for you.”  He smirked as he watched Justin’s face redden in response before he leaned back and looked over at his son, who now had ketchup smeared all around his mouth as the little boy beamed back at him; it was obviously Gus was in his element.  He adored baseball, having played Little League for the past year, and ate, slept, and dreamed about the sport constantly.  His son was definitely in heaven, and as he thought about his other companion with them, he was beginning to feel that way, too.

 

He laughed at his son as he pulled a couple of napkins out of the metal napkin holder situated in the middle of the table and wiped it around the condensation on the outside of his son’s paper cup to wet it before he leaned over and gently cleaned the ketchup and mustard from Gus’s face.  “There – now I can tell who you are,” he teased him.

 

“Daddy, it’s me… Gus!” his son replied as if his father had gone crazy.  Brian laughed at the serious expression on his son’s face as he shared an amused look with Justin; a few seconds later, he placed his hand on the top of Justin’s leg and felt him jump slightly.  He gave it a squeeze just before he reluctantly rose to his feet.  “Are you done, Sonny Boy?  I think we have just enough time to go check out the batting cages.”

 

“Yay!” Gus shouted in delight as he quickly forgot all about the few remaining French fries and little bit of shake he had left. He hurriedly scooted out from his seat and would have rushed off if Justin hadn’t reached out this time and grabbed him by the shirt tail, just in time to prevent him from taking off.

 

Brian hurried over to his son to grasp his hand.  “Thanks for the assist,” he murmured with a smile as Justin smiled back at him and nodded.  “Okay, boys, I’m next on deck!” he declared haughtily as Gus began to jump up and down excitedly on his feet in anticipation.  “Time to show the big leaguers how it’s really done!” 

 

As he and Gus began to take off down the plaza level at close to a run, Justin shook his head in amazement.  This was a side of Brian he had never anticipated or seen before; it was playful, almost jubilant and childlike.  He never thought he would see the day, but as Brian called back to him to ‘hurry the hell up,’ he was absolutely mesmerized.  The man was so multi-faceted and complex – it was fascinating.  He rushed to catch up with them, wondering exactly what they were up to, until he noticed them slowing down near a booth that said “Batting Cage – Hit A Homer and Win!”  He stood back a ways from them as Brian dug into his jacket pocket and produced a $5.00 bill.  “Stand back, Sonny Boy,” he heard Brian say smugly as Gus stood next to the attendant while his father picked up one bat and then another, swinging them to test their feel and weight.  He finally chose one that felt comfortable in his hands as he walked a couple of feet up to the makeshift home plate and hefted the bat onto his shoulders to wait for the ‘pitcher’ warming up on the screen approximately 20 feet away from – the ball that soon rushed at him at approximately 95 mph was actually thrown from a sophisticated machine that spit the ball out at just the right angle and speed. 

 

“Hit a homer, Daddy!” Gus cried out, jumping up and down excitedly as Brian took a swing and promptly missed.  “Hit a homer!” 

 

Justin’s body went rigid as he stood frozen to his spot, his heart beginning to pound in his chest as Brian swung the bat slightly back and forth in front of his body in anticipation of the next pitch.  “We’re going to hit it out of the park, Sonny Boy!” Brian vowed as he prepared for the next pitch to arrive.

 

He suddenly felt dizzy and his heart pounded in his chest as his face broke out into a cold sweat; he watched as if in slow motion as the next pitch was spit out by the machine and came flying toward Brian.  He watched, unable to move as the bat came into contact with the ball with a resounding crack; he flinched and squeezed his eyes shut as he grabbed the back of a nearby bench and grasped it tightly, his hands white with terror and his face pale. 

 

Brian smiled in satisfaction as he made solid contact with the ball and it went flying back toward the screen; a bell began to ring in staccato indicating Brian had hit a home to virtual right field and a sign lit up, announcing the booth had a winner. 

 

“We did it, Gus!” Brian said as he hurried over to scoop his son up and spin him around in jubilation.  “Daddy hit a home run for you!  Eat your heart out, Barry Bonds!” Brian quipped.  Gus hugged his father around his neck as Brian gave him a kiss on the cheek and squeezed him tight briefly before placing him down on the ground.  A young man who appeared to be in his late teens smiled at the tender father/son scene as Brian said, “Which prize do you want, Sonny Boy?  Show him.”  He watched in amusement as Gus quickly scampered over to the memorabilia stand to pick out his prize.  He quickly picked out a flag team pennant on a wooden dowel and ran back over excitedly to his father, clutching it in his hand with a beaming smile on his face as if he had the most precious jewel in the world. 

 

Brian’s heart warmed at the glow on his son’s face – his eyes were twinkling in delight and pride as he rushed over to show his father his treasured prize.  The loving smile he flashed back at his son suddenly changed into an immediate frown of concern, however, as he realized Justin was missing and looked around to find him; he noticed him hunched over one of the refreshment tables near the balcony overlooking the field.  He was clutching the rim of the metal table with his hands as if he might fall at any minute, his head hung down and his upper body bent over.  Even from his vantage point, Brian could readily tell Justin’s face was white and ashen.  What the fuck?  What had happened?  “Come on, Gus,” he urged his son as he grabbed his hand and hurried over to the table.

 

Dropping Gus’s hand and leaving him nearby where he could keep an eye on him, he swiftly walked over to the artist.  “Justin?” he asked softly, not wanting to startle him.  “What’s going on?  Are you okay?”  He could see his slender body shaking as he slowly crept closer.  “Justin?”

 

Gus stood near the balcony, peering out impatiently onto the field as he watched the players begin to start their on-field practice; his flag was now clutched in one hand with his glove in the other.  “Daddy, I want some autographs,” he pressed his father, wanting to have his baseball signed by some of the players.  The two of them frequently made it a practice to walk down to the field-level seats before the game to try and get some more signatures for Gus’s ball; one look at his son’s angelic, beautiful face with the large, doe-like brown eyes and the players were normally putty in the boy’s hands. 

 

“We will, Sonny Boy,” he promised his son, his eyes focused on Justin as he spoke.  He was now close enough to touch the other man as he quietly reached out and placed his left hand on Justin’s back.  He felt Justin jump at his touch and his brow creased in worry.  Was Justin having another sort of vision or flashback of some sort?  “Justin, what is it?” he pressed delicately, somehow sensing he shouldn’t make any quick moves or speak too loudly. 

 

Finally, Justin stood back up and turned to face him.  His face pale and wan, he didn’t utter a word as he practically fell into Brian’s arms and wrapped his hands tightly around the other man’s back, burrowing his head into his chest.  Brian was taken aback by this reaction, not quite sure what to make of it.  One thing he did notice, however; as he held Justin in his arms, it felt right… It felt remarkable, like they were meant to be together.  He lay his chin on top of Justin’s and continued to hold him, not caring if they were receiving undue attention at the moment, although he could sense some park goers glaring at them as they walked by. 

 

They stayed that way for a few minutes as he heard Justin’s ragged pants against his skin and felt his body’s shaking lessen as his breathing slowed down.  Sensing that Justin was more calm now, he slowly pulled back enough to look down into his expressive blue eyes; they were staring up at him wide and open now as he drunk in the sight of them.  God, this man was so beautiful, even when he was troubled.

 

He placed his hands on Justin’s arms to keep him close by as he asked softly, “You want to tell me what just happened?” 

 

Justin’s hands moved around to the front as he tentatively placed his palms down on the front of Brian’s jacket and grasped the two zippered ends.  “I’m okay now,” he told the other man as he cast his eyes downward in embarrassment.  He couldn’t believe he had just had a meltdown in front of this formidable, strong man.  What must he think of him?  His face flushed in shame at how weak he surely thought he was as he averted his gaze.  He was surprised, however, as he felt a warm hand cup his chin and force his eyes upward a moment later, the touch gentle but sure. 

 

“No, you’re not okay,” Brian decided as he waited for the golden lashes to flutter upward and the blue eyes to meet his gaze.  “And I’m not moving from this spot until you tell me what’s going on.”  He shifted his eyes sideward for just a brief second to make sure his son was still at the same spot, noticing him fidgeting side to side as he waited impatiently to leave; he knew Gus was anxious to get down to the field to obtain some more autographs, but he couldn’t move until he knew why Justin had just had a major episode of some sort.  If he had something to do with Carruthers, too, he needed to know.  “Justin?” he prodded insistently.

 

Finally, the blond sighed; he knew he was not going to get away with cavalierly dismissing what had just happened.  As painful as it might be, he would have to tell Brian the truth, but that didn’t mean it had to be now.  “Brian,” he said softly.  “It’s nothing to do with you – or the case,” he assured him. 

 

Brian kept his hand firmly curved around Justin’s chin as he prodded, “Then what?  Tell me.  I want to know.”  As a detective – and a damn good one, too – it wasn’t in his nature to let issues die or be dismissed so easily.  He didn’t get to be such an effective detective by letting go of something important to him so casually and he wasn’t about to start now.  “Justin…”

 

“Daddy,” Brian heard his son whine in frustration. 

 

“Brian, please… Let’s go ahead and take Gus down to the field.  I promise I’ll tell you.  But it can keep – really.  Go ahead…I want you to.”  His eyes pleaded with Brian for understanding, for a little more time.  He was amazed, though, by how gentle Brian’s voice was – it was nothing like the authoritative, forceful voice he was used to hearing in his role as a crack police detective.  It wasn’t even the same sort of gentle parental voice he used with Gus – this one was almost like a lover’s would be – whisper soft and soothing and despite the nightmare he had just revisited, he made him feel secure and warm.

 

Brian gazed uncertainly down into the intense blue eyes, a wave of emotions washing over him; what was it about this man that made him want to protect him, to safeguard him against harm?  Was it because he had seen him placed in danger and knew how vulnerable he had been because of his own doing?  Was it simply due to some sense of gratitude and responsibility he felt for his safety because he had saved his son’s life?  As he debated what to do, however, he realized somehow that there was more to it than that.  Every day, every hour he was with this man plunged him deeper into an emotional roller coaster of ups and down, one that he had never experienced for but one that he found distinctly intriguing and left him craving more, wanting to know more about this man.  He could tell that for whatever reason, though, Justin was evading answering his question.  For now, as he looked into the beseeching blue eyes, silently asking for understanding, he nodded.  “Okay,” he finally murmured softly as he noticed Justin’s face relax in response.  “I’ll drop it – for now.  But I’m not forgetting your promise to tell me what happened.”

 

Justin nodded as the two finally broke apart, his arms suddenly feeling empty.  Brian gazed at Justin a few seconds longer before he turned to look over at his son.  “Okay, Sport,” Brian told the boy with a smile as Gus quickly rushed over to him, sensing he was about to get what he wanted.  “Let’s go see whose autographs we can get!”

 

“Yay!” Gus cried out in excitement as he grabbed Brian’s hand and pulled on it.  “Let’s go, Jus’n!” he urged the blond as he began to tug his father toward the ramp to travel down to the field level. 

 

“You heard the man!” Brian quipped as he couldn’t help chuckling.  He noticed Justin give him a slight smile of reassurance as he followed along closely behind them, not knowing that the blond’s heart was still racing and his palms were sweaty and clammy. 

 

 

One Hour Later

 

Gus bounced up and down on his comfortable, maroon-colored wood stadium chair as he licked on a cone of chocolate ice cream, his free hand curled around the balcony railing.  The three of them had wound up with seats located in the Sapphire Club, which looked more like a fancy bar than actual baseball seats.  They weren’t down on the field level, but were located mid-way up inside the stadium, presenting a panoramic view of both the structure’s playing surface and the Allegheny River.  The three sections of the club seats provided a private balcony for each one with surprisingly up-scale, all-weather padded chairs and a small, round, glass table in between them to hold drinks and/or snacks.  The screened-in balconies let in the fresh, pleasant fall air while keeping one boisterous, rambunctious little boy from injuring himself.

 

Brian glanced over at Gus from his chair and smiled at him fondly; it felt so good to not have to worry about his son for just a little while; after last week it was like a breath of welcome, fresh air.  For at least the moment, for right now, he could simply sit, unwind and enjoy the game with his son – and a very captivating, beautiful man – by his side, and after a few shots of Beam, he was feeling quite relaxed.  As he looked at Justin sitting beside him, however, he noticed his companion didn’t appear as nonchalant.  He had gleaned a few smiles from him over the course of the past hour, especially over his son’s antics as he had tried mercilessly to obtain a number of baseball autographs (and had succeeded quite beautifully, too), but Justin’s expression appeared strained and his face was drawn as if he were still troubled over something. 

 

He was grateful for the chance circumstance that the three of them wound up alone on the balcony together, because it afforded him a chance to do something he wanted and reach for Justin’s hand.  He sensed an initial jolt of surprise from his companion before he felt Justin link his fingers through his firmly.  He gazed over at Justin as their eyes met, his glance slowly lowering to take in the full, wide, lush lips as Justin licked them nervously.  Again, he had this undeniable urge to lean over and capture them in a firm, deep kiss, wondering what they tasted like, but he resisted for now; he knew there was something else that needed to be cleared up first. 

 

“You promised me, Justin,” he said softly as the loudspeaker announced a change in pitchers for the home team. 

 

Justin turned his attention to the field below as he stalled for time.  “A promise?”  The hand firmly clutching his was so warm, so comforting, and so powerful; between Brian’s firm but gentle touch and the look he was giving him, he was finding it hard to concentrate.  Despite his attempt at being obtuse, however, he knew exactly what Brian was referring to.  He was torn between wanting fervently to tell Brian why had had reacted the way he had earlier, and not wanting to appear weak in his eyes. 

 

“Yes, Mr. Taylor.  You promised to tell me why you freaked out on me earlier.  Did you have another kind of vision or something?”

 

Brian’s thumb slowly swept over the sensitive flesh of Justin’s palm as he waited for a reply.  He was prepared to sit there for as long as it took.  “Justin?” he prodded when his companion remained silent.  Finally, he watched as the seemingly endless blue eyes turned to look at him and he heard Justin sigh in resignation, signaling that he knew he wasn’t going to back down.

 

Damn man, Justin thought silently.  He should have known someone like Brian wouldn’t just drop the subject, even though he preferred not to talk about it; there was nothing that anyone could do about it anyway.  He tried to concentrate on what he wanted to say as Brian continued to slowly stroke his hand; his heart quickened in response to the simple touch as he peered into the other man’s eyes and took a deep breath before saying, “It’s really nothing.  It had nothing to do with Carruthers or a vision – at least not a vision about him, anyway.”

 

Brian stared into Justin’s eyes, noting something amiss nonetheless.  His latest ‘vision’ may not have had anything to do with Carruthers or the murders, but something was still bothering him.  “Then what was it?  And don’t give me that it was nothing bullshit.  People don’t react the way you did over nothing.” 

 

Brian held onto his hand even tighter in silent encouragement before Justin told him what had happened.  “It… It was the bat.  The sound of the bat.  It just reminded me of something.”  Something I would rather forget but never will…

 

Brian frowned.  “The sound of the bat?  Why would that affect you?”  What the fuck?

 

Justin nodded as he sucked in a breath and let it out.  “Yeah,” he murmured as he again turned his attention onto the field; it was easier to talk about it without Brian’s eyes boring into his, although he was sure Brian was staring at him anyway.  He probably thinks I’m crazy, too, just like Carruthers… “It reminded me of what happened to me when I was still in high school.”

 

“Fuck.”  Brian had a sudden flash of epiphany as he recalled what Justin’s dean at PIFA had told him a few weeks ago.  Justin had been assaulted with a bat by some homophobic prick at his high school prom and had sustained serious physical injuries.  He remembered how the dean had mentioned him having to undergo physical therapy and how it had hampered his ability to draw at times, but until this moment he hadn’t realized that there were obvious psychological injuries that must have occurred as well.  “Your prom.”

 

Justin nodded; the pain of recollection evident on his face even after all this time.  He had forgotten about Brian mentioning the incident over coffee that day.  “You must have talked to my dean to find that out – didn’t you?”  He supposed Brian could have talked to some of his old high school classmates – or even Daphne – about it, but he knew Daphne would have told him she had, and it wouldn’t have been easy to track some of his old classmates down.  He hadn’t exactly kept in touch with the assholes he had classes with back then, even though if anyone could have found them, it would have been Brian.  No, it would have been a lot easier just to pry it out of his dean, even though that should have been confidential information.  Knowing Brian a little better now, though, he knew just how persuasive the man could be when it came to pursing something he needed.

 

Brian swallowed hard, feeling a little guilty now about having to pry into Justin’s personal life, but at the time he had no idea whether Justin had been on the up-and-up or not and he had been assigned a murder investigation to work on. “Yeah.”  He looked at Justin apologetically.  “I had to find out if you were who – and what – you said you were.”  He bit his lower lip a little apprehensively, worried that Justin would resent him having to dig so deeply into his personal life, but it had been part of his job.  He hoped Justin would realize that now, and also understand that things had changed considerably since then.  He no longer had any doubts whatsoever that Justin was exactly what he said he was:  a passionate, intelligent, articulate, sensitive, and beautiful man but also somewhat tortured and vulnerable; a man that managed somehow to bring out the protective and emotional side of him that he seldom shared with anyone, except perhaps his son.  Somehow he knew that no matter what happened in the future, these two – one a man, one a boy – would forever be entwined in his life.

 

As he gazed into Justin’s eyes, the sights and sounds of the ballgame disappeared around them.  He could only focus on the man sitting next to him as he said, “I’m sorry that happened to you.  If I’d been there I would have taken a baseball bat to his fucking head myself so he would have known what it felt like, too – except he wouldn’t have survived it like YOU did.”  He huffed out a tension-filled breath as he brushed his free hand through his hair in apology.  “I didn’t even think about what I was doing, Justin.  I was just trying to win a prize for Gus…”

 

Justin turned in his chair and reached out with his other hand to place it briefly on Brian’s thigh.  “I know you were,” he reassured him.  “I’m not blaming you.”  He removed his hand and rubbed it across his face before adding, “It’s stupid that something like that would get to me.  It’s not like you’re trying to hit ME with it.  The two aren’t related at all; it’s ridiculous.”

 

“No, it’s not,” Brian told him, his voice deep and authoritative as he marveled at his body’s visceral reaction merely to having Justin’s hand lying on top of his denim-clad thigh and the feelings of admiration that rose in his heart at the thought of how Justin had prevailed and even triumphed over what had happened to him.  “It’s completely understandable.  I just wasn’t thinking or I would have never agreed to do that, even for Gus.  He would have been happy with me just buying a souvenir at one of the stands.”

 

Justin shook his head.  “It’s okay,” he said with a slight smile.  “I just get these flashbacks sometimes if something triggers it.  It’s not like my other visions,” he explained.  “My other visions normally come when I’m either asleep or it’s quiet and they sort of slowly appear in my mind; these show up almost instantly and I get this throbbing in my head… Almost like it’s happening all over again.”  He reached up to place the fingers of his free hand against his temple, right where the bat had made impact.  He turned to look at Brian, who reached up with his own free hand to take Justin’s other hand in his.

 

“Fuck, Justin, we’re at a baseball game!  If this is too hard for you to handle, we can just…”

 

“No,” Justin hastily assured him.  “This is different up here.  I’m okay – really.  And I wouldn’t want to spoil your son’s big day, especially after what he went through.” 

 

Brian shook his head.  “Why did you agree to even come with me, though, if you knew this might happen?” he chided him softly.  “I would have understood.”  I would have been disappointed as hell, he thought, but I would have found something ELSE for us to do together.  He tamped down the sudden idea he had of just what he would LIKE to be doing with this man eventually as he forced his mind to focus back on the present.

 

“I wanted to come,” Justin was claiming.  “I didn’t think it would be a problem.”  He smiled wryly as he said, “I didn’t know you were planning on trying out for the team while we were here, though.” 

 

Brian curled his lips under.  “Well, I could have – and I would have been damned good at it, too.”

 

Justin grinned.  “Yeah, I think you would have.”  His face sobered as he softly added, “You know, I never had a vision like the one I had the other night when you were looking for Gus.  I touched his baseball cap and the image of that farmhouse just flashed in my mind suddenly.”  He shook his head in amazement.  “That’s the only time that’s ever happened to me; it was almost as if your son was calling out for help to me, because he knew he was running out of time.” 

 

Brian squeezed his hand, a lump in his throat over the thought of what might have happened that day had Justin not been there to locate him.  “Well, whatever the reason, I’ll always be thankful for why it happened,” he said softly as he looked over at his son who was clapping his hands over something happening down on the field.  His face was aglow with delight as he stood peering out over the balcony intently; he was so excited he hadn’t sat down since they had walked out onto the balcony.  Brian smiled at the sight.  “He’s a great kid,” he said, the love for him obvious in his voice before his expression turned more serious and he turned to look into Justin’s eyes.  “God, if I had lost him, Justin…”

 

Justin curled his fingers around Brian’s hand as he shook his head and stated, “That’s all over.  You don’t have to worry about that now – he’s fine – and he looks like he’s having a great time today.”

 

Brian twisted a corner of his mouth upward as he smiled.  “Yeah, he is,” he said as he turned to look at Gus once more before he turned to Justin again and his heart melted in gratitude.  “Thanks to you,” he said softly. 

 

Justin blushed at the intense look he was receiving; despite the brief, unpleasant episode earlier, he was actually having a wonderful time himself.  He had been nervous initially about how this day would go with Brian, but he was enjoying it immensely.  And he had to admit – each time Brian looked at him the way he was looking at him right now, and each time their hands met or they touched each other in any way, it sent feelings rushing through him that both scared and elated him.  It left him wondering exactly what was happening between them and where it would lead.  For once, he had no way of knowing what the future would hold, but he was looking forward to finding out. 

 

Their private moment was interrupted just then by Gus rushing over toward his father.  “Daddy!” he cried out excitedly as Brian turned and opened up his arms to welcome him into his lap.

 

“What is it, Sonny Boy?” Brian asked tenderly, his voice soft and sweet as he placed his hands protectively around Gus’s back to support him and his son pulled back to stare into his eyes, his own so large and expressive. 

 

Gus held onto his father with his hands around his neck as he asked, “Daddy, I want one of those helmets.”

 

Brian frowned.  “Helmets?”  He glanced over at Justin, who shrugged.  Brian raised his eyebrows in question as he softly asked his son, “Which helmets, Gus?”

 

“The ones with the nachos.”

 

“Ah,” Brian said in understanding as he smiled; his son was talking about the miniature plastic, keepsake Pirates helmets the park’s food booths squirted the fake cheese sauce into and served with their nachos.  He wasn’t sure, though, if his son was truly hungry or just wanted the helmet.  After all, Gus had already had a hot dog, French fries, Coke and an ice cream cone.  How much food could a little boy handle?  It wasn’t that he wanted to deprive him, but on the other hand, he didn’t relish having him puke all over his car, either.  “Are you sure you can eat something else, Buddy?  How much can this tummy handle?”

 

He glanced over at Justin, who was watching the father-son display with amusement.  “I can eat it, Daddy, I’m sure,” Gus told him firmly, nodding his head for emphasis. 

 

Brian eyed him skeptically.  “Why don’t I just pay for the helmet?  You don’t have to eat the nachos, too.”

 

“No, Daddy!” Gus insisted, thinking somehow that was wrong.  “I can eat them!” 

 

Brian smirked, still not convinced.  “I don’t know, Buddy…” 

 

Ever the improvisational one, Gus suggested, “Maybe Jus’n can help me eat them, Daddy.”

 

The two men locked eyes on each other and smiled as Brian made up his mind.  He stood up with Gus still in his arms, cradling the little boy’s butt in support as he said, “Okay, Sonny Boy.  One order of nachos, coming up.”

 

“Yay!” Gus cried out in happiness as Justin laughed softly.  He continued to be fascinated by this father-son interaction between them – it was amazing to see the difference that came over Brian when he was around this little boy and he was captivated by it.  It was obvious, too, how much Gus loved his father.

 

“Will you hold somebody’s stash while we’re gone?” he asked Justin, who nodded with a smile.  He watched them walk over to the patio entrance and disappear to head toward the club’s concession stand, finding himself inexplicably wishing that one day he, too, could experience the special kind of bond that these two obviously had.  He walked over to retrieve Gus’s glove, ball, and pennant for safekeeping before returning to his balcony seat, finally turning his attention to the actual game playing out below him. 

 

 

Early Evening

 

The sun’s rays were slowly receding in the sky as Brian, Justin, and Gus left the stadium’s parking lot; while their car waited in line to exit, a fully-sated Gus had fallen asleep in his booster seat in the rear of the sedan, his head tilted toward the left as he snored softly after a momentous and fun-filled day.  He was still clutching the pennant in his right hand, the glove, now fully-autographed ball and miniature helmet lying on the seat beside him.

 

Brian looked at his son through the rearview mirror and smiled.  “Someone’s finally worn himself out,” he whispered to Justin.  “Proves that even hurricanes will blow themselves out eventually.”

 

Justin laughed softly as he peered over at Brian.  “I don’t know if I ever had that much energy when I was his age.”

 

Brian smiled.  “Gus does seem to have gotten a double dose of adrenalin.”  He sobered a little, though, as he added, “He’s also very curious. That’s probably what got him into so much trouble before.” 

 

Justin nodded; he didn’t have to ask what Brian he meant or what he was referring to – it was obvious from the firm set of his jaw. 

 

His suspicions were confirmed, though, as Brian added regretfully, “I thought I had taught him the rules about not talking to strangers.  I know he knew better, but he still fell for it anyway.”  He sighed.  “I’m a fucking cop, Justin, but my own son still did exactly the opposite of what I would have expected him to do in that kind of situation.”

 

Justin gazed over at Brian’s profile as he drove, noticing the lines of worry etched on his face, perhaps mixed in with a little guilt?  “Brian, you can only do so much.  No matter how many times you tell them, they’re still kids.  And kids don’t always do what we tell them – or want them – to do.  And it’s even worse when they get older and they’re around their peers at school – it’s like the kiss of death to do what your parents say if your friends think otherwise.  It’s so uncool.”

 

Brian glanced over at Justin in puzzlement as he pulled out onto the main highway heading out of downtown.  “Do you have a secret love child somewhere, Mr. Taylor?” he queried.  “How did you get to be so smart?”

 

Justin laughed quietly.  “No… But I DO have a younger sister who’s a lot like Gus, at least when it comes to not following directions.  Believe me, it’ll get worse when he gets a little older.”

 

Brian grimaced.  “I hope not; he’s more than enough of a challenge now.  He definitely keeps me on my toes.  I was hoping only girls gave you heart attacks when they got older.”

 

Justin grinned.  “You never gave YOUR parents any problems?”

 

Touché, Taylor.  “My middle name was trouble,” Brian admitted.  “But by then I had it down to an art form, just to aggravate the hell out of my parents and a few of my asshole teachers.  I’m not sure I was typical of most kids.  I excelled at everything I did, including that.”

 

“No doubt,” Justin said dryly as Brian smirked at him.  “But just be warned – there’s lots more of this ahead.” 

 

Brian’s face sobered as he said seriously, “Well, I can handle it,” he added.  “As long as it’s nothing like what we just went through.”

 

Justin nodded silently as the two of them continued to drive toward home, the low-volume strands of some tune coming from the radio.  After a few minutes, though, he frowned, noticing they weren’t heading back toward his apartment.  “Where are we going?” he asked quietly, not afraid but curious. 

 

“I promised Gus’s moms that I would have him back by six,” he told him.  “They have some kind of standing ‘moms’ dinner date where all the little lesbos get together with their kids and ooh and aah over each other’s children.”  He glanced once more in the rearview mirror at his son before disclosing, “They’ve been even more protective of him since last weekend. I guess I should be flattered that they let me take him out on my own; until today they wouldn’t even let him out of their sight.  They’re even taking him and picking him up from school each day.”  He couldn’t really blame them, though.  He had actually thought of doing the same thing if they hadn’t volunteered that they were already doing it, even though he firmly believed that they had the one and only killer now in custody.  The horrific episode with Gus, though, had taught him that life was fleeting and you never really knew what might happen in the wink of an eye.  He glanced over at Justin, asking, “You don’t mind, do you?  I mean, if I take him home first?”  Even though that really WAS the reason, he wasn’t going to also admit to Justin that secretly he was glad the two of them could be alone for a while.  Every time he looked at those luscious lips, he couldn’t help craving a taste, and he was determined to take a sample very soon.

 

“No,” Justin responded quietly.  “That’s fine.”  Inside, however, his body was on high alert as he realized that would mean he would be alone afterward – all alone – with this sexy, formidable, gorgeous man.  Just like before, he couldn’t help thinking about how Brian’s touch made him feel inside.  What would it be like if they took that touching to a new level?  Would there even be a chance of that?  Was that what Brian wanted, too?  He really had no way of knowing short of coming out and asking him, and his lingering doubts wouldn’t allow him to do that for fear of rejection.  But he still felt his heart quickening in realization and his palms beginning to sweat in anticipation.

 

Brian nodded, silently pleased with Justin’s agreement as he drove toward the Munchers’ house, his own thoughts echoing those of the other man’s.

 

 

Fifteen Minutes Later

 

As they drove up to the mothers’ home and he slowed the car to a stop, Lindsay must have been waiting for them because the entrance door opened as soon as he turned the motor off.  Gus stirred drowsily as he slowly came awake, somehow recognizing the fact that they had arrived back home.  He straightened up in his booster seat and rubbed his eyes as he turned to see his mom walking up to his side of the car.

 

Lindsay opened the back door as she smiled at him as said, “Did you have a good time, Honey?”  Gus nodded exuberantly and beamed at her as she helped him from the car and scooped him up into her arms.

 

“My things,” he protested, as he leaned over in her arms and strained to reach the souvenirs of his adventure.  Brian opened his side of the car and got out to walk around and retrieve Gus’s glove, ball, pennant, and plastic miniature cap.  “I’ll carry them inside, Sonny Boy,” he told his son as Justin opened the passenger car door and also emerged.

 

“Hi, Justin,” Lindsay said with a warm smile as he acknowledged him.  “It’s good to see you again.”  She and Mel would forever be grateful to the young man who had been so instrumental in saving their son’s life; he would always have a special place in their heart as a result.  But how did Brian feel about him?  She had been a little surprised to hear that he was going with Brian and Gus to the game earlier, when Brian had first called to set up the arrangements with her.  Had Brian invited him out of gratitude, or for some other reason?  She had noticed that Justin’s name seemed to be mentioned quite frequently when they were talking over the phone lately, whether Brian realized it or not.  It was obvious from their conversations that he had no doubts now as to Justin’s unusual talent or his sincerity.  Was there more to their relationship, though, than respect and thankfulness for what Justin had done?  She watched as the two men exchanged a look that appeared to be more than just casual acquaintances and couldn’t help wondering. 

 

Justin smiled.  “It’s good to see you, too,” he replied almost shyly, still a little uncomfortable around so much scrutiny.  Despite knowing how grateful Lindsay was to him for his help in finding Gus, he still didn’t really know her very well. 

 

“Did he behave himself around you?” she asked with a twinkle in her eye. 

 

Justin nodded.  “Yeah, your son was great,” he assured her.  “I think he had a really good time.”

 

“No, I meant Brian,” Lindsay teased as Brian promptly stuck his tongue out at her and she laughed.  “He’s the one I’d be worried about.”  She noticed with interest that Justin seemed to blush at her joke, which left her wondering exactly what DID happen at the ballpark.  Interesting…

 

“Very funny, Lindsay,” Brian retorted.  “Apart from unscrewing all the salt and pepper lids on the tables, I’ll have you know I was a perfect gentleman.”

 

She grinned.  “That’s a relief.  So, do you want to tell me what my human eating machine had to eat at the ballpark?  I have a feeling somebody isn’t going to be very hungry tonight when we meet our friends for dinner.”

 

Brian smirked.  “Well, he’s only had a hot dog, French Fries, chocolate milk shake, chocolate ice cream cone, and nachos with some kind of cheese shit.  Other than that, though, he’s good.”

 

“Brian!” she cried out in disgust.  “He had all THAT?  That’s even worse than I imagined!  How do you expect him to have any appetite for dinner now?”

 

He shrugged.  “So he’ll save you a lot of money tonight,” he pointed out as she rolled her eyes.  Lindsay shook her head at him as he said, “Let’s get you into the house, Sonny Boy, I’ll bring your stuff for you.”  He turned to look over the car’s roof at Justin.  “Want to come in?  This should only take a minute.”

 

Lindsay nodded as she gently placed Gus down to stand on the ground next to her.  “Yeah, Justin, come on in.  I’m sure Mel would like to say hello to you, too.  She’s upstairs getting ready.”

 

Justin shook his head, still feeling a little uncomfortable around Brian’s friends.  “No, that’s okay,” he murmured softly.  “I’ll just wait by the car.”

 

“You sure?” she pressed him as he nodded.  “Well, okay, then.  I’ll tell Mel you said hello.  And please plan on us taking you out to lunch soon; it’s the least we can do.”  She looked down at Gus.  “Go say goodbye to Justin, okay?” 

 

The little boy nodded and scampered around the back of the car as he rushed up to Justin and placed his hands around the blond’s upper legs to give him a hug.  He looked up into Justin’s blue eyes as he said, “Bye, Jus’n!” 

 

Justin smiled down at the precocious little boy who reminded him so much of Brian and felt his heart melt. He placed his arms briefly around Gus’s shoulders to hug him back as he squeezed him briefly before letting go.  “Bye, Buddy; I hope I see you again soon.”  He felt the sting of tears behind his eyes, feeling enormously grateful that this little boy had been spared from harm before he quickly wiped them away with his sleeve and Gus rushed off to join his mother and Brian.

 

Brian looked over at Justin for a brief moment, surprised at Gus’s show of affection for him, before he followed his son and Lindsay into the house, reappearing a few minutes later and noticing that Justin had now gotten back into the passenger seat of the car to wait for him.

 

“All set?” he asked as he opened the door and got in.  Justin nodded as Brian latched his seatbelt and started up the car.  As he pulled away from the curb and merged into traffic, he glanced over at his companion.  “Gus had a really good time today,” he told him.

 

Justin smiled.  “Yeah, he sure seemed to.  I think it had more to do with who he was with, though, than what he did.  He loves you a lot.”  Justin saw Brian’s features soften as he, too, smiled at the thought.

 

“The feeling’s mutual,” he replied softly as he turned his attention to the traffic.  “He likes you,” he said unexpectedly as Justin felt his heart lurch.  “He was asking if you could go out with us again sometime.”  Brian didn’t dare look over at Justin as he casually said, “Would you?”

 

“What?”

 

“Would you go out with Gus and me again sometime?”  Somehow that felt like a much safer way of asking for Justin’s company rather than just coming right out and asking him if he could see him again.  Why was this so difficult for him, though?  He had never asked a guy out on a date before; he never HAD to.  IF he wanted a guy, he merely grabbed him and took him somewhere to fuck his brains out until he was sated and satisfied, then he moved onto the next one.  Why was it so different with this man?  Why did he care whether he got this ‘right’ or not?  Why was he concerned about Justin’s feelings in addition to his own?  Was it because this was much more than just a physical attraction?  Fuck, this was all new to him – he didn’t know how to do this at all.  But he did know one thing – he didn’t want to fuck this up.  He wanted to get this right – it was important; HE was important.  He held his breath as he waited for Justin’s reply.

 

Justin smiled; was this Brian’s sneaky way of asking if he wanted to go out with him again?  Was he merely using his son as a convenient method of avoiding stating the obvious?  He couldn’t be absolutely sure, but he hoped so.  Despite the one unpleasant part of today’s outing, he had enjoyed being with Brian immensely, and definitely wanted to continue to get to know him better.  If he had to initially agree to have Gus come along with them as part of the deal, he was more than willing to do that, because the boy was absolutely delightful and a little charmer just like his dad.  That didn’t mean he didn’t want to be alone with Brian, though; he definitely did, although the idea still made him nervous.  Brian gave off this powerful aura, this bigger-than-life persona that made him both fascinated and scared as hell.  But it was a good kind of scared; it made his pulse beat faster and his heart do crazy flip flops, not to mention how his body reacted whenever he touched him.  For once he wished he could predict when he could see into the future again, because then he might know if he was right about how Brian might feel about him.  For now, though, he would just have to rely on his intuition, and the way that Brian was looking at him so intently made his heart pound with anticipation.

 

He smiled.  “Sure,” he said softly.  “I had a good time today, too.” 

 

Brian nodded as he turned his eyes back to the road, trying hard not to show the pleasure on his face.  He was about to wonder if he should ask Justin if he wanted to grab a bite to eat somewhere before he took him home when his police-issued cell phone rang.  Damn it, he thought silently in dread; normally when it rang, it wasn’t good news.  Reaching inside his jacket pocket, he flipped it open one-handed and brought it up to his ear.  “Kinney.”

 

“Brian, it’s Carl.”

 

“Hi, Sarge, what’s up?”

 

“Where are you?” was the curt inquiry.

 

Brian took a breath to steady himself before he advised, “I’m on my way home from a ballgame I went to with my son; I just dropped him off.”  He wasn’t sure why he didn’t mention Justin’s name, too; it certainly wasn’t as if he were ashamed of the fact or anything.  Perhaps he didn’t tell his sergeant because for now at least he wanted their relationship – their personal relationship – to remain just between the two of them.  He knew Horvath wasn’t homophobic or anything – Brian had been more than upfront about his sexual orientation from the beginning – but he wasn’t sure how his sergeant would feel about him becoming involved with a potential witness to a court case, especially one as important as this one.  For now, then, he felt it was wisest not to divulge that particular piece of information to him.

 

“Well, I have news about Carruthers,” he heard Horvath say cryptically.  Brian knew enough to recognize Carl’s tone of voice, and he could definitely tell he wasn’t pleased about something, whatever the news was.  Ever since the press conference several days ago, they had been waiting for the bastard’s medical condition to improve enough to be questioned.  Was that what he was calling about?  If it was, why did he sound so displeased?

 

“Is he able to be questioned finally?” Brian asked hopefully, glancing over at Justin and noticing him looking back at him intently.  There was no doubt who he had to be talking about, and Justin knew it.

 

He could hear the disdain dripping off Carl’s voice as he said, “Yeah, he is, actually.  He no longer needs the breathing tube and is staying awake now for much longer periods of time.  And he’s coherent and talking; so much so, in fact, that he told me to go to hell earlier today when I tried to question him, and that he wanted an attorney before he said anything.  Bastard,” he spit out in contempt.  “I knew this was going to happen.”

 

Brian pursed his lips tightly together in anger for a few seconds before stating, “Yeah, I can’t say that surprises me, either, but I was hoping for a different outcome.  So we’re shit out of luck for now.”

 

“Yeah,” Carl told him.   “He’s going to be in the hospital for a few more days at least, and then he’ll be locked up.  Once the judge appoints an attorney for him, we’ll have to hope he’ll be willing to answer some questions with counsel present.”  He paused for a few seconds before he stated, “At least he’s sane enough to know how to protect his fucking rights.”

 

Brian glanced over at Justin, the worry written all over the blond’s face.  They had had such a great, relaxing time today – for once neither one of them barely gave any thought about Carruthers – and now the whole problem was promptly being dredged up again.  “Yeah…  He’s crazy alright – crazy like a fox.” 

 

Carl snorted.  “Yeah, I agree.  Well, I thought you’d want to know.  I’ll see you Monday and we can go over what we have so far.”

 

“Got it,” Brian said.  “I’ll see you then.”  He slowly snapped the phone shut, knowing without looking at him that Justin had to be staring at him, waiting to know what was going on.

 

“That was about him, wasn’t it?” he asked quietly.  A cold lump of dread began to form in his throat as Brian nodded, his eyes on the road.  “He’s awake now?”

 

“Yeah,” Brian said quietly.  “Carl said he finally got an okay from Carruthers’ doctor to talk to him, because he’s doing a lot better and the breathing tube has been removed.  Only problem is, the fucker’s refusing now to talk without an attorney present.  He doesn’t sound like he’s very irrational to me.”

 

“No,” Justin said softly as Brian looked over at him in concern.  It was like a light had suddenly been switched from bright to dim; Justin’s whole demeanor changed as the topic of Carruthers came up.  Damn it

 

“Justin,” he said, trying to sound calm so as not to worry him unduly, “it’s to be expected with a murder suspect.  He’s not going to say anything to incriminate himself, and he’s certainly not to going to help the police tie the noose around his own neck.”  He could tell that just the mention of the man’s name had completely changed the tone in the car.  Once more Justin was thinking about the man he might have to testify against, not the wonderful day the three of them had had together, and it was definitely putting a damper on his hopes of spending some quality time with Justin alone before the evening was over.  That didn’t mean he was going to give up trying, though; it wasn’t in his nature.  “Try not to let it bother you,” he said soothingly as he slowed down to stop at a red light, noticing they were only a few blocks away from his loft.  He reached over to take Justin’s hand, feeling him curl his fingers over his like a warm and soft, perfectly-molded glove.  God, it felt so right to hold his hand, but he craved more…. A LOT more. 

 

“Brian… The light,” Justin advised him suddenly, a look of amusement on his face.  He looked up sheepishly as he heard someone honk their horn lightly behind him, realizing the light had changed to green.  Removing his hand from Justin’s, he cleared his throat and slowly moved the car forward, his heart beating rapidly over his lapse in attention as he wondered if he was giving too much of his feelings away.  What the hell was happening to him?

 

Justin turned his face toward the side window, his heart hammering in his chest over Brian’s actions.  If he didn’t know better, he’d say that Brian was experiencing much of the same emotions that he was feeling.  Was it possible?  All he knew for sure was that their time together was fast ending, and he felt a profound sense of regret over having to separate.  But today had hopefully been a starting point, and wherever the future led them, Brian had managed today to divert his worries and anxiety over what might be coming up, and for that he would be forever grateful.  Getting to know Brian much better, too, away from his police duties would be an added bonus. 

 

He turned to face Brian as he said sincerely, “Thank you for inviting me to go to the doubleheader with you and Gus today; I really enjoyed it.  It’s been great.”

 

Brian veered the car over to the curb and stopped in front of Justin’s apartment building, resigned to today not being a good day to push for something more; a bright streetlight shone directly overhead, providing them with some illumination that was just bright enough to see each other clearly but not in a harsh sense.  “I’m glad you had a good time.  Maybe we can do something again soon.”

 

Brian’s voice was throaty and smooth, almost sultry but also hopeful, and it made Justin’s body come alive with its suggestive tone.  He suddenly forgot about Carruthers for now, choosing to concentrate instead on what he hoped Brian was saying, what he wanted him to say.  Well, to hell with ‘soon;’ there was no time like the present.  He steeled himself for possible rejection as he suggested softly, “Maybe you’d like to come up for a drink.” He held his breath as he watched Brian turn the car motor off, bathing the interior of the car in solitude.  It was so quiet, he could hear crickets chirping all around them outside as an occasional car slowly drove by; for the most part, though, this side street was unexpectedly private and deserted for a weekend night.

 

Brian’s heart began to race.  Justin was asking him to come upstairs for a drink?  Was that all he wanted, though?  At the moment, he didn’t care – he would take whatever extra time with Justin alone that he could get.  There was just one problem with that idea, though.  “What about your bodyguard?”

 

Justin chuckled.  “You mean Daphne?”  As Brian nodded, he admitted with a smile, “She CAN be pretty feisty, but she’s never bitten anyone as far as I know – at least not yet.  I’ll make sure she doesn’t put any strychnine in your drink, if that’s any comfort.”

 

That wasn’t quite what Brian was getting at – he wanted Justin to himself, and wasn’t worried about bodily harm – but still, it made him laugh.  “How do you know about strychnine, Sherlock?” 

 

Justin shrugged as he frowned.  “I’m not sure – I just know it’s some kind of poison.  But we don’t have any in the apartment, if that’s what you’re afraid of,” he said with a smile as he unbuckled his seatbelt, waiting to see what Brian was going to go.  He didn’t want their day to end just yet. 

 

“No rat poison?” Brian pressed him.  “You sure?”

 

“Is THAT what it is?”  As Brian nodded, he laughed.  “Hmm… Does D-Con count?  If it does, I’ll make sure to put it under lock and key and out of Daphne’s reach before I break out the booze.”  He gazed into the gorgeous brown eyes, noticing the light overhead creating some streaks of gold in them as Brian gazed back at him intently.  “So are you willing to take a chance, Detective?  I’ll even let you frisk her if you want – she’ll consider that a cheap thrill.”

 

Brian pondered that weighted question.  He was certainly willing to take a chance on anything, if somehow it meant he could be alone with this captivating blond.  “Well, anyone would get a thrill out of that,” he answered smugly, choosing to joke about it as Justin huffed in amusement.  “Okay, Mr. Taylor, I’m game,” he said as he unhooked his seatbelt and the two men exited the car.  As they came around to the front of the vehicle, however, Brian unexpectedly grabbed Justin’s upper arms and pushed him back against the hood of the car as the blond let out an oomph of surprise.  “Before we go in, though, there’s something urgent I need to take care of first,” he said huskily as he stared down into the luminous eyes shining up at him.

 

Justin’s breath caught in his throat.  “There… There is?” he managed to utter as he thought, God, let that mean what I HOPE it means…

 

Brian nodded as he leaned down until their upper bodies were almost touching; Justin could feel the other man’s hot breath on his face and the heat of Brian’s hands on his arms as he whispered throatily, “Yeah, there is.”

 

Justin didn’t have to ask to know what Brian was about to do – it was written all over his face now, but he asked anyway.  “What?” he whispered, his voice cracking as Brian slowly lowered his gaze to stare at his lips which suddenly felt dry as sandpaper.

 

“This,” Brian growled as he finally sought what he had been yearning for and pressed his lips firmly against the blond’s while he slammed Justin’s body against his, trapping his upper torso against his chest and the hard steel of the car.  He didn’t politely request a deepening of the kiss as he heard Justin moan at the contact – he demanded it as his tongue insistently pushed between the slightly parted, lush lips and slid into the sweetest taste this side of heaven as he thoroughly swiped the moist recess inside with his tongue.  He could feel their battling hard erections pushing against their bodies and it was sending a thrill of anticipation through him as he angled his mouth for deeper penetration, his legs tangling with the blond’s below as they ground their cocks together in a type of selfish, lusty greed. 

 

Justin felt dizzy with desire as he and Brian kissed; if his legs hadn’t been effectively trapped between Brian’s longer, leaner ones and the hard metal of the car behind him, he would have promptly dropped to the ground like a spineless jellyfish.  His heart was hammering in his chest like crazy as Brian’s tongue snaked inside his mouth; he reached up blindly to hold onto the brunet’s upper arms for support as he moaned at the sensations coursing through his body.  He had been waiting for this moment, anticipating it, dreaming of it, but all of that was nothing like the real thing.  He felt like he was on fire as Brian angled his head and plunged back in even harder.  He could feel his cock hardening instantly, Brian’s echoing his own desire as he twined their legs together and they rutted against each other like two horny teenagers. 

 

The kiss seemed to go on forever, both men oblivious to anything else around them, until the harsh blare of a nearby car horn from an impatient neighbor waiting for a friend to emerge from an adjacent apartment building startled them and caused them to break apart.  Both men were panting heavily as they pulled back to stare into each other’s eyes.  Brian noted somewhat smugly that Justin definitely had that ‘thoroughly—kissed’ look on his face.  Under the glare of the streetlight, he could make out the other man’s swollen, ravaged lips and see his eyes wide and expressive as they stared into his.  He could feel Justin’s heart rapidly keeping time with his own and his body trembling slightly, noticing with chagrin that the blond wasn’t the only one that had been affected by their long-awaited and much-anticipated kiss; his own body was craving more, more, more... 

 

He took a deep breath to control himself before whispering, his voice still a little ragged from exertion, “That… That was definitely a good start.  I think I could use that drink now.  Let’s go upstairs.” 

 

Chapter Text

“That… That was definitely a good start.  I think I could use that drink now.  Let’s go upstairs.” 

 

 

He tried to keep his voice calm as he spoke, not wanting to risk letting Justin know just how strongly that kiss had affected him.  There wouldn’t have been adequate words, anyway, to accurately express his feelings about it; it had been bliss, eroticism, sweetness, hotness, and heart-stopping emotion all in one.  It had been like nothing he had ever experienced before, and something told him he would never grow tired of it.  He released Justin’s slim frame to take his arm, not dare risking any stronger contact at the moment.  If he didn’t keep at least some distance from him, police decorum or not, he knew he would take the man right then and there on top of the hood of the car.  It wouldn’t be the first time he had fucked another man against the front of his car, but oddly with Justin, he wanted their first time to have some meaning, not just be a one-time, mind-blowing fuck.  He gently pulled at Justin’s wrist, urging him toward the front door as he felt his companion’s pulse racing underneath his touch.  

 

Justin followed along behind him, his legs feeling like rubbery jello and his heart in his throat with expectation because he knew, they both knew, that he wasn’t merely extending an invitation to Brian to come up for a ‘drink.’  Still, though, he felt his heart begin to beat anxiously.  It wasn’t as if he had had a lot of experience in this sort of thing – in the past he had always hesitated to get too close to another man, pulling back just before leaping over the edge for fear he might see something in the future that would spell heartache or sorrow for one or both of them.  He had purposely avoided allowing himself to even entertain the possibility of being happy with someone, of caring about another man for precisely that reason.  He had seen way too many instances where he had envisioned something dreadful happening to someone he cared for and he had been unable to either stop it or change it; that had been enough to prevent any further deepening of a potential relationship, even though he yearned for that bond with someone and he longed to share his life with another.  As a result, he had carried around this empty space in his heart for far too long.  But with Brian he simply couldn’t fight it anymore; with him he found himself desperately wanting those things, craving them, and despite the fact that he was fearful over what the future might hold for them, for their potential, budding relationship, he wanted more with every fiber of his being. 

 

As they approached the landing, he didn’t know how he managed to fit his key into the front door lock with his free hand as Brian held firmly onto his other one; his whole body felt like it was on fire merely from the warmth of his touch.  But he finally stilled his shaking hand and jiggled the doorknob just enough to get the lock to engage and turn the door to successfully open it. 

 

Still linked together, Brian closely followed him up the narrow, small group of steps to the second floor; he could feel the heat of Brian’s breath on his neck as they came to his and Daphne’s apartment door.  Brian pressed his body up against Justin’s – deliberately, he thought – and through the rough denim fabric of Brian’s jeans he could feel the evidence of the sexy brunet’s desire for him pushing against the seat of his own pants, promptly shooting any small amount of concentration he might have possessed straight to hell.  “Brian” he pleaded helplessly, knowing he would never be able to focus on his task if the other man’s body was plastered to his.  “Give me some space,” he beseeched.  His face flushed as he heard Brian laugh softly at his awkwardness, but he breathed a sigh of relief as he felt the detective back away just enough to separate from him.

 

As he turned the doorknob, he heard Brian growl quietly behind him, “Hurry up, Taylor; I’m getting really thirsty.”  Okay – his cock or ass might not have gotten much up-close-and-personal action yet, but even HE knew what Brian meant, and it had nothing to do with needing to quench his thirst; at least not THAT type of thirst.  He was actually beginning to feel a little on the parched side himself as he finally managed to get his sweaty hand to turn the knob enough to open the door. 

 

As he entered the apartment with Brian still hot on his heels, he noticed immediately how quiet and empty the space appeared.  “Daphne?” he called out tentatively, listening for any signs of her, even though he was pretty sure she wasn’t there.  Normally with Daphne, you pretty much knew right away if she was home or not.  Either the television or radio was blaring, the shower was going, or she was chatting up a storm with one of her other friends.  This time the apartment was eerily quiet, except for the sound of his own anxious breaths at the comprehension that he was totally alone with Brian, who was standing way too close for comfort at the moment.  He was finding it hard to concentrate presently, knowing that Brian was only a few feet away, but it also made him excited – too excited – for his own safety. 

 

He frowned, wondering where Daphne was.  It surprised him somewhat that she wasn’t home, since she had practically threatened to send a bloodhound out after him if he wasn’t home by six o’clock, and it was a few minutes till now.  “I wonder where she could be?” he asked aloud, perplexed.  He tamped down the worry that was threatening to rise to the surface as he reached inside his jeans pocket to retrieve his phone, flipping it open and punching in her one-digit code.  He noticed Brian coming up beside him out of the corner of his eye as he waited impatiently for his friend to answer.  Finally on the third ring, he heard a click on the other end as it was picked up.  “Are you home safe and sound?” he heard Daphne say without any preamble.

 

“Maybe I should ask you the same question,” Justin responded.  “I’m home but you’re not.  Where are you?  I thought you gave me a deadline of six o’clock before you threatened to send out the cavalry to rescue me.”  He glanced over at Brian, who arched an elegant eyebrow in amusement.  The man bestowed a lazy grin on him that made his heart skip a beat as he swallowed hard in response.  He was discovering that ever since that breathtaking kiss downstairs, every touch, every little movement, every facial expression from the man was doing crazy things to his own body.

 

“Well, I was just about to call you,” she told him.  “My plans changed a little, that’s all.  Instead of waiting around for you to come back, I had what you might call a tempting offer that I couldn’t refuse.”

 

Justin thought he actually heard Daphne giggle softly before he replied, “Tempting offer?”  Justin suddenly felt a firm hand anchor itself on his upper arm and he jumped slightly. Why did Brian’s touch seem to affect him like that?  That wasn’t anything, though, compared to what happened next when he felt the man’s body up against his and a pair of arms snake around his waist to pull him firmly back against the taller frame as he held the phone to his ear.  Oh, my God…

 

His breathing began to resonate in small, soft pants as Daphne replied, a triumphant tone in her voice, “Yeah… Remember Brad?”

 

“Brad?” he managed to sputter out somehow.   He remembered clearly how his best friend has been swooning over merely the mention of one of her classmates’ names, but he silently hoped that Daphne would understand that right now her current crush was the last thing on his mind.  “Uh… Yeah, I remember.  What about him?”  He couldn’t help gasping a little as he felt Brian now nuzzling his neck, and his temperature shot right off the map as a pair of lips began to taste his lower earlobe.  Until now he had never realized how erotic that could be, but his cock was certainly verifying it at the moment as his pants began to feel incredibly tight in certain places and his heart continued to thump loudly.

 

“Are you okay?” he heard Daphne ask, concerned.  “Is anything wrong?  You sound a little out of it.” 

 

If you only knew… “No… No, I’m fine,” he breathed out as Brian chuckled softly behind him, knowing full well the effect he was having on his concentration.  Justin cleared his throat, but his voice still came out as a sort of croak.  “Will you be out long?” he asked, thinking that he sounded like some Vienna choir boy undergoing a puberty change. 

 

He could almost hear Daphne frowning on the other end of the line.  “How was the ball game with Mr. Cocky?”

 

Mr. Cocky indeed, he couldn’t help thinking.  He suddenly felt like a locomotive barreling down a track that was going to end its journey by going over a cliff somewhere.  But boy, what a way to go… “It was good,” he responded as Brian began to nibble now on his earlobe with his teeth before his lips began a wet, hot journey down the side of his neck toward his collarbone.  Really, really good… He couldn’t help the soft moan that escaped his partly-open lips as Brian began to slowly unbutton the top of his sweater to expose the creamy flesh of his neck and shoulders.  As his lips and teeth continued to become better acquainted with Justin’s right shoulder, Brian’s hands slowly slid up under the hem of his sweater to snake inside as they began to expertly stroke his belly and chest sensuously.

 

Fuck.  It was all Justin could do to speak now.  He tried to pull away slightly, to put a little distance between him and his tormentor, but it merely made Brian plaster their bodies even closer together so there was now no breathing room between them at all.  “You’re not going anywhere,” he heard Brian growl softly in his ear possessively, his hot breath washing over his face and making him shiver. 

 

What was Daphne sayingOh, yeah.  Ballgame.  Well, I’ve got the extra innings of that ‘ballgame’ going on right now… “It… It was fine,” he breathlessly repeated.  He knew he wasn’t sounding like himself, but it was the best he could do at the moment, though, because all coherent thought was quickly leaving him. 

 

“Justin, what is wrong with you?  Are you having some other type of vision?”  Daphne asked, now getting more and more convinced that something was going on that Justin wasn’t being upfront about.  Did that asshole hurt him somehow?  She still thought Kinney wasn’t the most tactful or sensitive person in the world, despite what Justin thought.  If that arrogant detective had done something to her friend again …

 

Justin would have laughed at the absurdity of that statement if he wasn’t so turned on at the moment by just what sort of vision he was enjoying.  “No,” he managed to reassure her in a somewhat normal tone of voice as Brian continued to caress his chest and belly before he then began an explorative journey over toward Justin’s neck on the way to his other shoulder; he was leaving small kisses and bites every few inches along the way like bread crumbs to mark his path, and it was driving Justin absolutely crazy with desire.  “No… No visions like that,” he stuttered out.  “Go on – have a good time.” 

 

Daphne gazed uncertainly across the table at the gorgeous man she had been hoping would ask her out for months.  As he smiled back at her flirtatiously and winked, she made her mind up.  This was much too good to pass up, and Justin did say he was fine...

 

“Well, if you’re sure everything’s okay, then, Brad and I are going to finish our pizza down here at Gino’s, and then we’re going to the movies.”  Before she hung up, though, she added, “I’m not sure how late I’ll be.  Are you absolutely…?”

 

“Yes!” Justin answered hurriedly, almost TOO quickly.  He jumped at the unexpected pain/pleasure sensation of Brian biting down hard on his shoulder.  That one was sure to leave a mark, but oddly enough it left him feeling almost giddy at the knowledge that he was so desired by this magnificently sexy man.  “Go!” he managed to add.   “In fact, take your time.”  Take all the time you need…

 

Daphne frowned, still not quite sure if she was totally convinced by Justin’s words of reassurance, but her hope to spend time with Brad finally overcame her hesitation.  “Okay, then, I’ll see you later,” she said before she softly closed the phone.  Conflicting thoughts about her friend quickly dissipated as she turned to smile back at the handsome boy sitting near her.  There would be time later to sort out her friend’s mysterious behavior, but for now at least he was all right – that was what was most important.

 

 

Justin waited a couple of seconds before he closed his own cell phone, needing the extra time to try and regain some semblance of normal breathing.  It was near impossible, though, with Brian the octopus latched onto him from behind – the man seemed to have ten hands at the present time because between his lips and his roaming hands he seemed to be everywhere at once.  The truth was, he was woefully ill-prepared for what Brian was asking, no, demanding of him and it both excited him as well as scared the shit out of him.  What would Brian think when he found out how little experience he had at this?  From the looks of the man, as well as his expertise in knowing precisely what to do to make his body practically melt into the carpet, it was obvious that Brian didn’t share that problem.

 

Knowing it was inevitable that he be up front with him, though, but also knowing that he wasn’t exactly wanting him to stop, he took advantage of a slight loosening in Brian’s embrace to slowly turn around and almost shyly lift his eyes to gaze into the dark, smoldering ones of his companion’s.  “Brian?” he whispered softly as their eyes met.  He didn’t really even know what he was trying to say – whether it was a plea of understanding over his insecurity and a wish for the two of them to take things slowly, or simply an acknowledgement of what they both already knew – that they were deeply attracted to each other and were about to demonstrate that fact – but at that moment what he was trying to say didn’t matter because the name was all Brian allowed him to get out before he took matters into his own hands – literally.

 

 

As Brian gazed into the flushed, beautiful face of the man who had saved his son’s life, all the past few weeks’ events came rushing back to him.  How he had initially distrusted Justin’s motives, how he had scoffed in his face over his unfortunate ‘gift,’ and how he had resisted accepting Justin’s help.  How wrong he had been!  So wrong, in fact, that it had almost cost him not only his precious son’s life but also the opportunity to get to know a truly extraordinary man.   Now, as his eyes bored into the azure ones, he couldn’t hold back any longer, not since he had gotten that intriguing, initial taste downstairs.  Brian Kinney was a thirsty man – a very thirsty man.  He suspected he would have an unquenchable thirst for a long time – at least when it came to Justin.

 

Justin’s voice softly called out his name just then from those perfect lips and he was lost.  He roughly pulled Justin’s pliant body closer to his as his arms slid around to link them together in place at the small of his back to keep him from escaping.  A few seconds later, he finally got to take another drink – a nice, LONG drink – of that wondrous mouth as his lips came crashing down onto Justin’s again.

 

As their mouths became reacquainted with each other, he heard a soft sigh in response as his tongue pressed insistently for entrance and to his great satisfaction was shortly granted sweet permission.  His one hand came up to cradle the back of Justin’s head while the other pressed itself palm down against the slim back to deliberately push their groins together in barely-controllable torture.  Just a mere brush of their clothing rubbing against each other was making his cock hard as hell and he knew he wouldn’t leave this place until he – and Justin- both got what they so obviously wanted.

 

He angled his head as his hand kept a firm, almost painful grasp on the back of Justin’s neck as he continued to drink deeply of the man’s taste, his feel, his touch.  God, he feels so fucking good… Their two bodies molded together perfectly despite the differences in their height – every curve, every angle was completely filled, creating a radiating heat that threatened to burn them both. 

 

Justin felt like he was drowning as Brian continued to plunder his mouth territorially.  His tongue seemed to be doing somersaults inside his mouth as he ground his cock against his, causing a moan to erupt from deep within his throat at the sensation.  And his hands – the man’s hands seem to be everywhere again.  Before he knew it, though, he felt Brian tugging at the bottom of his sweater and pulling it up his chest in an impatient, urgent demand that he take it off and his heartbeat increased tenfold at how fast everything was happening between them.

 

After a small hesitation, he dropped the hold he had on Brian’s biceps enough to raise his arms over his head as their lips broke apart with a resounding pop and the offending sweater was removed.  Justin shivered slightly, not only as the cool air wafted over his exposed skin but also at the almost predatory look Brian was giving him.  He flushed noticeably at the other man’s scrutiny, feeling vulnerable and just a little scared at the power he seemed to have over this formidable man.  Would Brian be disappointed with him, though, if this led to where he thought it was about to lead and he found out how little he knew?

 

Brian barely gave him a chance to take a shallow breath before he found a pair of steel-banded arms wrapped around his bare lower back and the man’s lips on his once more.  He felt his upper body bent backward from the force of the man’s assault as they continued to kiss deeply.  No other man had ever kissed him this way before, and no other man had ever caused his body to react with such hunger and ferocity.  He wasn’t sure his kisses were equal to Brian’s – if he was even capable of giving Brian the same amount of pleasure that he was giving him – but he knew he would move heaven and earth to find out.  He only hoped that Brian would be patient with him.  He suspected that a man like Brian Kinney knew everything there was to know about giving and receiving gratification when it came to sex, and again his insecurities rose to the surface.  Would Brian laugh in his face and ridicule him when he finds out how little experience he really has with other men?  That was his biggest fear; he did not want to disappoint this man.  There was only one way to find out, though, and he suspected they were quickly reaching the point of no return for him to back out.  He didn’t want to, anyway.

 

As if to confirm his suspicions, he felt a pair of hands deftly grasp the front of his jeans and begin to unbutton the fly as his own hands clung to the front of Brian’s shirt like a life preserver.  His heart began to pound as he realized what was about to happen.   He wanted this – he really did – but it was all so new to him.  He knew he wanted more than anything to make love with this man.  But as Brian began to snake a hot, long-fingered hand inside his briefs and his intention was made crystal clear, his fear and insecurities sprouted quickly to the surface as he somehow found the strength to break apart somewhat from the other man, at least temporarily. 

 

Brian’s eyes looked over in surprise at the sudden withdrawal as he noted a look of what – fear?  Uncertainty?  Hesitation?  He wasn’t quite sure.  “What?” he breathed out in a raspy, lust-filled voice, his chest heaving softly from the feelings Justin was engendering in him.  His fingers remained curled around Justin’s waistband as if he refused to let him get too far away.  God, he had to have this man… “Bed?” he asked, wondering if Justin had a preference for the first place they fucked.  All he knew was he didn’t care where it was as long as it was NOW.

 

“Brian,” was the plaintive reply again as Justin looked into Brian’s puzzled face.  Justin licked his lips nervously, which merely seemed to plant even more desire in Brian’s eyes as they narrowed and darkened ever more in reaction, and it merely served in turn to make him even more nervous as he tried to explain.  “I… I need to tell you something first.”

 

“You’re not really queer?” Brian retorted gruffly.  “Because if you’re not, Picasso, you’re doing a fucking good imitation of one.”  He wanted nothing more at that moment than to slide his hand back inside those bright white briefs poking out invitingly from beneath Justin’s jeans and verify for himself just how queer he was.  But something told him as he looked into Justin’s eyes that there was something he felt he had to tell him first; he just wasn’t sure how long he could hold out.  “Justin… Tell me what you need to say now and then I’m going to drag you into your fucking bedroom and ram my cock inside that tight little ass of yours.”  His jeans were unbearably uncomfortable now from pent-up desire.  He was amazed how much he wanted this man.  He NEVER did the pursuing – men came to him.  Why was it so important, then, that he actually make himself wait to hear what Justin had to say?  Was it perhaps because Justin meant more to him than a simple one-night fuck?  Was it because he felt some odd need to play by Justin’s rules because he had saved his son’s life?  He wasn’t quite sure what the answer was, but he could tell by the look on Justin’s face that there was something he had to say and he wasn’t going to proceed any further until he said it.

 

With a soft sigh of resignation then, he forced himself to remove his probing fingers from Justin’s waistband as his arms slid up the slim shoulders to wrap themselves lightly around his neck.  “’What is it?” he said with surprising gentleness.  Somehow he knew by the look on Justin’s face that this was the right approach.  He watched as Justin averted his eyes – in embarrassment?  “Justin,” he commanded firmly but quietly as he used his fingers to force the blond to turn his head and stare up into his eyes.  They were going to hash this out right now or he might fucking explode from suppressed need.  “I’m not wrong about us – I know it.  You want this, too.”  He was rewarded with a nod of Justin’s head as he added, “Then what?”

 

Justin’s face reddened.   “I just need you to know that… This, this is new for me.”

 

“What?” Brian asked, slowly massaging the soft, pale cheeks with his thumbs as he fell deep inside the depths of those intense blue eyes staring back at him.  “Bringing a man up to your apartment?  With a bulldog like Daphne for your roommate, I can’t say I’m surprised.”   He must admit, though, the girl had impeccable timing tonight, because he was hoping… No, he was going to be the exception to that rule very shortly.

 

But Justin shook his head.  “No, not exactly,” he verified, feeling inexplicably shy, despite just having kissed this man enthusiastically with everything he had. He bit his lower lip to steel himself before he just blurted it out.  “This. Sex.  This is all new to me.”

 

Brian’s mouth hung open; that wasn’t what he had been expecting.  “You mean…?”  The man could kiss, that was definitely true.  He hadn’t learned to use those talented lips on the fly just tonight. They had had practice sometime in the past.  So it could only mean one other thing.  “You’ve never…?”  By the mortified look on Justin’s face, he knew he had nailed it.  “Shit.”  How could a man as beautiful as this one gotten away with never being fucked?  The thought filled him with both a sense of amazement as well as a little bit of pride that he was going to be Justin’s first.  That is, if Justin agreed to it.  By the indecipherable look on the blond’s face, though, he wasn’t sure what was churning inside his head. 

 

“I know,” Justin replied painfully, afraid by revealing his innermost secret that Brian wouldn’t want him now.  An inexperienced, naïve, unversed lover?  Why would Brian want that when he could have any man he wanted?  “Pitiful, isn’t it?”  He twisted away from Brian’s embrace to turn around, not wanting to look the gorgeous man in the eyes for fear of what he would see. 

 

“Justin…”  Pitiful would be the LAST word that would come to MY mind about this man, Brian thought as he watched an incredibly-curved ass move away from him to the other side of the room and his cock twitched in response.

 

Justin walked over to place his hand on top of the cool, cement mantelpiece that belonged to a long-ago, obsolete wood-burning fireplace that now held a large potted plant instead.  The mantel was only good now for a few photos of him and Daphne, along with a couple of mementos of when the two of them had taken an impromptu trip a couple of years ago to West Virginia one weekend to go whitewater rafting.  That was pretty much all they could afford at the time, but they had had a blast anyway.  He stared into Daphne’s eyes in the photo, trying to gain some courage there as he revealed, “It’s not that I haven’t had offers.  But every time I get close to someone, I become afraid that something will happen to them and I’m afraid of hurting them somehow.  I don’t want to take that chance, so I’ve chosen instead to just keep my distance.  It’s easier that way.”  He could hear Brian’s footsteps quietly walking up behind him and expected any second to feel the other man’s arms slide around his body.  He wanted that, in fact, he craved it desperately, but Brian inexplicably chose not to touch him, leaving him with a profound sense of disappointment.  That didn’t mean, though, that his words alone didn’t have an effect on him when he spoke.

 

“Easier for whom?  You or them?  Is that what you want with us, Justin?” the other man asked him softly.  “To keep our distance from each other?”   Brian refused to believe that; he had seen how Justin had reacted to his touch, to his kisses.  His response was that of a man who wanted this just as badly as he did, but he had to be sure.  He had to hear it from those perfectly-formed lips.  “Justin?” he pressed quietly.  “Say it; tell me.”  He couldn’t believe he was standing there, waiting for a lover to give him permission before he fucked him.  Any other time, he would merely take what he wanted and think to hell with the consequences.  This was different somehow, though.  This was much different.  This meant something.

 

Justin bit his lip in indecision.  God, he wanted Brian so badly.  He wasn’t a saint; he had wants and needs just like any other man.  It wasn’t as if he set out to live this way.  It was simply better for all concerned.  At least it had been… Until now.  Somehow, though, the conviction that he was doing the right thing had flown out the window when Brian had come along.  “Justin?” he heard the velvety voice behind him say and his heart hammered in his throat.  He finally dared to turn around, noticing Brian standing a few feet away from him.  He swallowed the worry that threatened to consume him just like it always had before as he simply admitted, “No. You know I don’t.” 

 

Brian slowly walked even closer to him until Justin could feel his breath whispering on his skin.  “Then there’s no reason to be afraid.”  He lifted his right hand to curve it around the soft skin of Justin’s cheek, watching the golden lashes flutter closed briefly in response before the blue eyes opened slowly again to look up into his.  He could see what appeared to be indecision as well as hope warring there.

 

Justin raised his hand to cup it over Brian’s, feeling warmth and reassurance underneath, but he still wasn’t totally convinced that the risks were worth it.  If anything happened to Brian, and he knew about if beforehand and was unable to stop it…  “It’s not that easy, Brian,” he whispered before letting his hand drop to his side and shrugging out of Brian’s grasp.  He couldn’t think straight when Brian touched him.  “Do you know how I would feel if something happened to you?” he said.  “That’s been the concern I’ve had every time I got close to someone.  Only this time… It’s worse.”

 

“Worse?”

 

Justin nodded. 

 

Brian frowned.  “How is it worse?” 

 

Justin had to smile wistfully.  “Don’t you see?”  He restlessly brushed one hand through his hair as he tried to explain.  “If I didn’t care so much about you, it would be easy to just let go.  It would be so simple.   It wouldn’t matter what happened afterward or what I knew might happen.  I could have one night of incredible, passionate sex with you,” he added, looking away just a little in embarrassment over how much of his feelings he was revealing.  But just the thought of what sort of night they could have together made his entire body come alive with anticipation as he continued, “and that would be the end of it.  But I know it wouldn’t be that way with you, Brian.  This matters.  You risked your life to find and rescue your son – you put your life on the line every day in your job.  Anything could happen to you.  You almost got killed at that farmhouse.  What if I could see into the future and know that one day it might actually happen?  I couldn’t live with that knowledge.”

 

Brian sighed softly, his heart going out to this complex, fascinating man.  There were so many sides to Justin, so much to learn about him.  There was no way he wasn’t going to enjoy spending a long time doing just that, and there was no way he was going to let this man get away or simply turn tail and run from him just because of what might happen in the future.

 

He reached out with both hands and, despite Justin’s attempt to squirm out of his grasp, he firmly slid them around the slender waist to lock him tightly in his embrace.  “Justin, listen to me,” he entreated quietly.  “Nothing is guaranteed in life.  Nothing is ever set in stone.”  He smirked in spite of the seriousness of the situation.  “Even Yoda said the future is always in motion, didn’t he?”

 

Justin stared at Brian incredulously.  Was he making fun of him?  “Brian, this isn’t science fiction, no matter what some might think!  Even YOU know that it’s real now!  My ability to see things isn’t some parlor trick.  What I see really happens!  How can you joke about it?”

 

Brian’s face sobered quickly; he thought an attempt to lighten Justin’s mood might help, but apparently that wasn’t going to do the trick in this case.  “Justin,” he replied seriously.  “What I’m trying to say is that whether you might see what my future holds or not, it’s still going to happen.  You can’t stop it.  Does that mean that you put your own life on hold while it does?  That you don’t feel anything?  That you don’t care about anyone in the meantime?  To me, that’s not a life, that’s merely existing, and I don’t think for one minute that’s how you want to live.”  He gazed down into the troubled blue eyes and shook his head no when Justin opened his mouth to speak.  Once more, as he held Justin in his arms he stopped to marvel briefly at two things:  how well their bodies fit so perfectly together, and how beautiful this man was, both inside and out for taking the world on his shoulders and caring about others so deeply.  “If you do, that would be a real waste because I know how you feel things so profoundly.”  If Justin hadn’t cared so much, they wouldn’t even be standing here having this conversation and his son would be dead. 

 

“But don’t you understand, Brian?  That’s exactly why I haven’t gotten involved with someone!  If I don’t allow myself to care about someone else, then it won’t hurt so much when I see something happen to them that I don’t want to see.”  He felt the beginning of frustrated tears behind his eyes as he looked down, unable to meet Brian’s intense gaze. 

 

“Well, then you’re depriving yourself, Justin Taylor,  as well as lying to yourself because you already told me that you care about me; I can see it in your eyes.  I can feel it in the way you kiss me, in the way you touch me.  It’s too late to turn back now.  You already DO.” 

 

Slowly Justin raised his eyes to look into the determined hazel ones and swallowed the lump in his throat before whispering, “I know.  That’s what terrifies me.”  All this time… Every time another man looked at him and expressed interest in him, Justin longed to know what it felt like to have a relationship with someone, to care about them, and to experience all the pleasures that he was sure were out there, just waiting to be explored and enjoyed.  But he always held himself back, afraid to take that extra step, leaving a trail of disappointed suitors in his wake.  But with Brian, he found himself unable to do that, unable to walk away, even though he desperately wanted to shield his own heart from the knowledge of some possible harm that might come to him.  Ironic, considering the man was a cop and more than capable of taking care of himself, but the fear was still there.  He turned his attention to Brian as he felt his arms pulling him even impossibly closer until their lower bodies were fully flush against one another, their deep attraction for each other obvious and unmistakable. 

 

“Justin… I can more than handle anything that comes my way, trust me.”  His hands slowly stroked Justin’s skin as he felt him tremble slightly under his touch. He quietly asked, “Any more concerns?  Because I don’t know about you, but I’d rather move on to more pleasurable ways to spend our evening while your personal bodyguard is gone than discuss what might be.  Besides, I prefer to think we have the power to make our own destiny, not wait for it to happen, and we have a chance to begin that tonight.” 

 

Justin stared into the determined eyes of his…  What?  Friend?  Lover?  He knew Brian was leaving that choice up to him, but just the notion of it sent a thrill through his body and even now, even after Brian knew he had no experience with this sort of thing, the man obviously still wanted him.  Don’t be stupid, then, Justin; this could be the best thing that ever happened to you.  Don’t fuck it up.  He took a deep breath and let it out.  “No… No more concerns.  I’m tired of watching from the sidelines, and I’m tired of letting this awful gift control my life.”  Now that he had made up his mind, now that he had decided to just go with the moment, he found himself feeling unexpectedly vulnerable and nervous but also like a huge weight of responsibility had been lifted from his shoulders.  He licked his lips to moisten them as he gave Brian a shy smile.  “I… I want that, too.”

 

The corner of Brian’s mouth twisted upward as he stared into Justin’s eyes.  “Good,” he murmured as his arms slid around to travel up Justin’s arms until they were linked behind his neck.  He leaned in to whisper in Justin’s ear and nibble on his lower earlobe. “So let’s take this to the bedroom and get better acquainted then.”

 

The husky tone of Brian’s voice sent a shiver of anticipation through his body as the two pulled back to stare into each other’s eyes and Justin nodded.  It was time – time to see where this leads.  Time for him to stop worrying about what might never be and concentrate instead on what was

Brian curled his lips and smiled softly back at him, recognizing that Justin’s insecurity needed the reassurance;  he took Justin’s hand, feeling the blond grasp it tightly, almost like a lifeline.   “We need to speed this up a little, though,” he added, “because I’m a very impatient man when it comes to you.”  In fact, he couldn’t believe he had managed to wait this long, because his ardor was every bit as strong as it had been a while ago; in fact, his eagerness to be with this man was worse now than before.  His entire body was tense with expectation.  He had been trying to deny it for some time, but he had wanted this for quite a while now.  The man simply did things to him that no one else ever had.  He supposed he could try to attribute the intense feelings to Justin saving his son’s life, but he knew that wasn’t it.  It had certainly bonded them, made them closer, but it didn’t explain the strong, insatiable feelings that Justin aroused in him.  He couldn’t wait to find out what sort of lover he was.  Justin may lack experience, but he was a passionate man in other ways – in his loyalty to his friends, in his beliefs, and to his craft, for instance; he had no doubt that passion would carry over into the bedroom, too, and he couldn’t wait to find out just how it manifested itself.

 

The walk down the hallway was a short one, thankfully, as Brian blessed his luck at Justin having a small apartment.  As soon as they turned to enter the bedroom, Brian twirled Justin around in his arms and backed him up none too gently against the adjoining wall to clamp his mouth down once more onto the soft, plump lips and ravage them anew.  This time there was no holding back on either man’s side as Justin responded with a brief groan before quickly wrapping one arm around Brian’s neck and the other around his back to press the taller body forcefully into his and fervently return the kiss.  A few seconds later, he tentatively slid his tongue out to flick at Brian’s lips as the man obligingly opened up and let him in.

 

My God, Justin thoughtAs Brian cradled his head in his large hand and used the other one to stroke his upper back, Justin’s body was aflame with urgency and power.  Power that only he seemed to possess with this man.  He still couldn’t quite believe it, but it was obvious in Brian’s touch and in his body’s response to him that he wanted him.  He felt an insatiable, burning fire to get closer to this man; now that he had made the conscious decision to let go, the feelings were so intense, he felt a sudden urge to almost crawl inside him.  “Brian,” he managed to gasp out as their lips parted briefly.  “I… I need…”  He struggled to speak, but he was finding it hard to formulate the words.

 

Brian’s breathing had accelerated as they kissed, his emotions awash with desire and something else that he couldn’t quite define yet.  As they pulled back, though, and Justin whispered out his name, he knew something had to be done and quickly or they wouldn’t even make it over to the damn bed.  He shrugged out of his leather jacket as it fell to the floor and he began to unbutton his shirtsleeves while Justin watched him with darkened eyes.  A few seconds later, though, his hands were stilled by the smaller ones.

 

“Let me,” Justin explained shyly.  Brian curved one side of his mouth up and nodded silently as he obligingly dropped his hands to his sides and proceeded to enjoy the sight and feel of his young lover’s gentle ministrations.  He watched as Justin’s hands reached out to shakily begin unbuttoning his shirt, one button at a time, slowly – too slowly for his taste.  But oddly enough, he was determined this time to let his lover set the pace, despite his impatience and his body screaming for release.  He knew there would be a point, however, in which he couldn’t wait any longer, so he silently hoped that Justin wouldn’t take too long.  Wishing to speed things up a little, then, but at the same time not wanting to spook him, he reached down and unbuttoned his fly just as Justin finally succeeded in unbuttoning the last button on his shirt.

 

Fuck, the man is so magnificent, Justin couldn’t help thinking as he opened the two sides of the shirt and it fell down Brian’s arms and onto the floor, exposing his bronzed, taut, smooth skin to his inspection.  His hands lingered within a few inches of Brian’s chest, longing to reach out to feel that silky flesh, but he hesitated, still unsure of his skill.  Brian’s next words, however, helped to allay his fears.

 

“Touch me,” the man whispered fervently.  God, Justin… Please touch me. I’m not going to last very long at all here.  “Do it,” he urged him. 

 

Justin hesitated just a little longer, remembering how he had touched Gus’s ball cap and had felt a flash of horrible premonition appear.  He had this strange dread that perhaps something like that might happen when he finally allowed himself the luxury of exploring the skin of the man he had been longing to touch for so long, but his desire to discover all that was Brian’s magnificence outweighed any concerns as he finally reached out with his fingertips and softly, tentatively touched his lover’s chest.  So warm, so fucking warm… So ALIVE.  As his palms made firmer contact now, he could feel Brian’s heartbeat pounding rapidly beneath his hand as his eyes lifted to gaze in wonder at the hazel orbs boring into his, knowing it was him that was causing that sensation.  As they stared at each other, he didn’t have to ask what effect he was having on Brian – he could tell by the look in his eyes and the staccato of Brian’s heartbeat, a rhythm that was undoubtedly a mirror of his own at the moment.

 

Emboldened by Brian’s reaction, he slid both hands up the chest to curve them over the other man’s strong, muscular shoulders, delighting in the sinewy strength.  He smiled slightly, relishing the feel of Brian’s skin and the soft sounds of encouragement sprouting from the cranberry-colored lips as his hands lowered down the flat chest toward a more tantalizing goal:  Brian’s denim-clad waist.  As his gaze lowered to hone in on his target, his hands began to shake slightly in anticipation as he silently thanked Brian for unbuttoning his fly earlier; if he hadn’t he wasn’t sure at that moment that he would have been able to do it, and he wanted nothing impeding his progress now.  He slid the zipper down and slowly pulled the two ends of Brian’s jeans apart, exposing a pair of snug, satin, black briefs hiding its treasure underneath.  He could almost see and feel what lay in wait there, and he licked his lips almost subconsciously as his hands made their way over to the top of Brian’s waist to rest there for a couple of seconds as he gathered up his courage to continue.

 

He lifted his eyes to find Brian gazing back at him intently, his eyes almost the color of an inky blackness now as he nodded slightly back at him in encouragement.  He could almost feel the barely-controlled restraint Brian was using, and he was grateful for it.  He somehow knew a man like Brian normally would never allow such patience with anyone else, and it filled him with joy to realize that he was willing to do it just for him.  He bit his lip in concentration and his  pulse sped up as he finally grasped both sides of Brian’s briefs and jeans and, letting out an audible breath, meticulously began to pull them down the long legs, exposing the other man’s long, thick, impressive cock that jutted forward.  He sucked in a breath as he observed how hard and leaking it was already, an obvious sign of the man’s yearning for him.  He shook his head ever so slightly, still in disbelief that someone like Brian would find him that desirable, as he proceeded to squat to slowly lower the jeans all the way down, admiring the sculptured, lean legs as he did so.  He managed to pull off Brian’s shoes and socks as the other man obligingly lifted each foot until he succeeded in removing the clothing entirely.

 

He raised his head to see Brian staring down at him.  “Come up here – now,” was the husky demand.  Justin swallowed hard at the tone of Brian’s voice as a pair of arms impatiently grabbed him by the elbows and pulled him up forcefully to stand next to him.   He watched, unable to look away from Brian’s eyes, as the man reached over deftly and unbuttoned his own jeans now with remarkable alacrity; a moment later, there was no hesitation on Brian’s part as he unzipped the clothing open and firmly curled his fingers around the waist of his jeans to begin pulling them and his briefs off.

 

This is it, Justin couldn’t help thinking as his body trembled.  Despite Brian’s assurance that he had nothing to worry about, he still couldn’t help wondering if he would disappoint him.  But it was too late to back out now as Brian pulled his clothing down further to expose his painfully-hard cock to his scrutiny and he felt the coolness of the night air wafting over his now fully-nude body.  He shivered slightly as he stepped out of his sneakers and Brian finished pulling his clothing all the way off, including his socks.

 

Now both fully nude, they both took a moment to admire each other’s bodies, one light, one dark.  One slender, one long and lean; two intriguing, uneven halves that somehow were about to hopefully join together perfectly. 

 

“You’re so beautiful,” Brian couldn’t help murmuring as he openly ogled the compact, trim, pale body of his soon-to-be lover.  Justin was even more magnificent than he had hoped – slender waist, alabaster-smooth skin, dusky-pink, perfectly-rounded nipples just begging to be licked and sucked, and best of all, peach-fuzz, light-colored hair in a patch that ended in the most delightfully-thick and astonishingly-impressive cock that was sorely begging for some much-needed attention.  Not to mention the perfectly-curved ass that he had already been able to ascertain through the snugness of Justin’s jeans earlier.  He noticed Justin’s face flush in response as he firmly assured him, “You are.  And I can’t wait to explore and taste every inch of you.” 

 

He reached out with one hand to lightly stroke his fingertips down the middle of Justin’s chest, watching the skin ripple and shiver under his expert touch.  He heard a soft sigh of pleasure escape the full, pink lips.    Justin was so damn responsive to every little movement he did – he couldn’t wait to see how vocal he would become in the heat of their passion… He also knew, though, that he had to take this slow, as much as it was fucking killing him, but he was sure the eventual culmination would be more than worth the wait as he reached out to take Justin’s hand and slowly lead him over to the bed.  Thankfully, at least, he appeared to have a full-sized mattress, but at the moment he was so turned on it could have been a fucking trundle bed and he wouldn’t have cared. 

 

Now that he could see all of Brian in his glorious splendor, Justin couldn’t help openly admiring the lean, sculptured, tanned flesh and the angular, masculine curves of his companion’s body.  He already knew how majestic Brian’s legs were – just the right proportion for his tall body, long and firm, and how skilled his fingers were when he touched him; he could imagine all sorts of delicious things right now, in fact, that those fingers could do to him.  And he knew how overall gorgeous the man was in a classic, Greek-god sort of way, even fully clothed.  But, My God – nude and open to his full inspection, the man was incredible.  He had a trim, lean waist and a chiseled chest with just the right amount of definition, but of course his crowning glory was most certainly his cock.  The size and definition of Brian’s dick made him hard as a rock just looking at it, while it also frightened him.  He wasn’t totally ignorant to what happened when two men fucked, even though he hadn’t had the opportunity yet to discover it personally, but just the thought of that enormous shaft being rammed inside his ass made him fearful.  Would he be able to please Brian the way he expected to be pleased?  Would he know what to do or would he make a total fool out of himself?  Would he even be able to fit Brian’s dick inside him? 

 

As if reading his thoughts, Brian leaned down and bestowed a surprisingly soft kiss on his lips before pulling back to whisper, “I can’t wait to fuck you.  It’s going to be unbelievable.” 

 

Justin let out an anxious breath despite Brian’s words of reassurance and licked his lips nervously.  His heart was literally pounding now in both trepidation and excitement as he silently nodded, knowing he never wanted to experience anything so badly in his life, even if he didn’t know precisely what would happen.  He had to trust Brian, though – he did trust him.  He had to believe their first time together would be everything he had been hoping and dreaming of.

 

Brian smiled softly at him before he pulled him closer to the mattress and turned him around so his back was to the bed.  He pushed him just enough to make him sit down on the bed before he joined him.  He grasped Justin by the shoulders and turned his torso in his arms to kiss him deeply; Justin’s hands automatically wound themselves around his back, partly to explore the wondrously-warm, lean flesh but also for simple support amidst the feelings swarming inside him.  His body practically melted into Brian’s as they continued to kiss, their tongues now dueling equally in each other’s mouths for several seconds before Brian finally broke their kiss, both of them breathless and heavy with desire. 

 

Brian stared into the younger man’s eyes for a few moments as if he were memorizing every detail of his face before he whispered, “Lie down, Justin.”  Justin nodded slightly before inching himself up in the bed with his elbows until he reached the pillow to lay his head there.  Now lying fully naked on top of the covers with his knees slightly bent apart, he watched with large, expressive eyes as Brian slowly crawled up the bed on his hands and knees to kneel in between his legs and stare down at him like some sexy panther about to consume his tastiest meal.  He even noticed Brian licking his lips in anticipation, which immediately made his cock begin to leak more profusely.  How long would he be able to hold out against such a wanton display of lust for him?  Something told him he might soon be making a complete fool of himself, because his entire body was quickly heading toward the point of no return the longer Brian touched him and looked at him the way he was gazing at him so intently now.  He didn’t want to hold back anyway, but on the other hand he didn’t want Brian to think he wasn’t considering his pleasure, either…

 

Brian gazed down at the amazing man staring up at him so apprehensively and wondered why in the hell he looked so nervous.  Didn’t this man realize how incredibly beautiful he was?  Shit, how Justin could have gone so long without being touched, fucked and made love to was too hard for him to fathom, but he was astoundingly grateful that he was about to be his first.  He only hoped he didn’t make a complete ass of himself because the way Justin was looking at him right now he could come even without touching the man.  He was certainly used to his share of fucking tricks over the years, but no one had quite looked at him with such awe-inspiring, openly unabashed admiration as he was receiving right now, and it made him horny as hell.  He watched Justin observing his every move, his eyes wide and dark-blue with hunger as he reached down and began by lightly stroking the top of Justin’s thighs, his manicured nails softly trailing up and down the warm, soft skin.  He heard Justin gasp in response as he continued to scrape his nails ever so lightly across the pale flesh, wanting desperately to move onto a more intimate region but knowing again that he had to take things slow with him if he didn’t want to spook him.  It had taken an inordinate amount of persuasion just to progress to where they were now; he didn’t want to do anything to prevent what he so desperately wanted and needed. 

 

Justin’s pulse raced.  What the man did to him with such a relatively simple touch!  Even without much experience, he knew he was about to explode if Brian didn’t stop right now.  He almost blindly reached out with his hands to still the roaming fingers of his lover, saying in embarrassment, “Brian… I… I won’t last if you keep that up.”

 

Brian smirked at him.  “Who says I want you to?” he countered in a sort of growl.  “It’ll take the pressure off for the next time.  And I intend for there to be a LOT of ‘next times’ tonight.”  He smiled knowingly as Justin blushed profusely before he said, “Now… Where was I?  Oh, yeah… I think right about here.”  And with that, he boldly reached out to firmly cup one hand around Justin’s cock while the other one sought out his balls.  As he lightly juggled them in his open palm, he applied firm pressure with the other hand around Justin’s cock and used his thumb to flick repeatedly over the sensitive tip.  With a loud, vocal, throaty cry soon afterward, Justin promptly shot his come all over Brian’s chest and belly, his entire body heaving in exertion and pleasure afterward.

 

Brian grinned at his lover’s reaction, relishing the look of ecstasy on Justin’s face as he came.  My God, he is so responsive, he marveled again.  He had been right – Justin was apparently going to be quite a vocal lover, too.  He smiled down at him.  “That’s one,” he huskily murmured.  “And we’re just getting started.”  He noticed Justin’s face reddening even more as one pale hand come up to cover his eyes in embarrassment.  Still on his haunches, Brian reached down to gently grab his hand to remove it from his face.  “Don’t hide your reactions from me,” he entreated firmly.  “It turns me on even more.”  He took his free hand to grab a corner of the sheet and tenderly wipe the come from Justin’s body as well as his own.  Never taking his eyes off the blue ones, he asked, “Condom?  Lube?”  Justin shook his head helplessly, fearing that would quickly put the kibosh on their plans, but Brian smiled.  “Don’t worry – I’m just like a Boy Scout, only hornier.”  He backed up on the bed to stand up and search for his discarded jacket, reaching inside the front right pocket to locate a small, white plastic tube of lube and a condom.  Quickly dropping the jacket onto the floor and walking the few steps back over to the end of the bed, he once more knelt down on his knees and scooted up the mattress to gaze down at his lover.  Justin’s face was flushed in the after-throes of passion, his golden hair tousled on the pillow, his lips swollen and thoroughly ravaged, his legs bent at the knees and opened wide to accommodate him.  He was still breathing heavily from his climax and his sweaty skin was glistening from the exertion.  He looked totally debauched now, and Brian thought he was absolutely breathtaking.  The most amazing part of it all, too, was that they hadn’t even fucked yet. That was about to change, however; as much as he would have liked to taste Justin’s fine-looking ass and give him a rim job he would never forget, there was a much more urgent matter that needed to be taken care of first, and his cock was painfully reminding him of that fact.  Justin wouldn’t be the only embarrassed one if they didn’t take care of it soon, because he could think of nothing else but imbedding his swollen dick inside that hot piece of ass immediately.  He tore the condom packet in his teeth, spitting out the edge as he slid the latex out of its package and quickly discarding the wrapping.  He noticed Justin staring at him intently as he deftly rolled the condom onto his dick and then reached down to grab the small tube of lube and squirt some onto his fingers.  He took a few moments to rub it with his palms, knowing how cold it might feel to Justin otherwise before he said softly, “I’m going to prepare you first.”  He noticed Justin swallow hard but nod as he reached down with his left hand to first trail a reassuringly-light touch along Justin’s crack before he ever so slightly poked his right middle finger just inside.  He heard a soft intake of breath as he immediately stopped and looked at his lover.  “I know,” he whispered, thinking back to so long ago when it was his first time.  “It’s going to hurt a little at first.  But you’ll get used to it,” he reassured him.  “This will help.”  Justin nodded again as Brian pushed his oiled finger in a little deeper, amazed at how tight he was.  The sensation of being surrounded by such narrow, constricted flesh around his one finger was almost enough for him to lose it right there, but he forced himself to concentrate on Justin’s needs as he pushed in a little deeper.  “Relax,” he advised, “Breathe out and loosen your muscles.”  He smiled in satisfaction as he felt the surrounding muscle open up slightly before he pushed his finger in a little deeper.  He made sure not to hit Justin’s prostate.  He had already seen how little it took for Justin to erupt in climax, and the next time he did so he wanted to be firmly entrenched inside his wondrously-tight ass for both their sakes. 

 

Instead, he pushed another finger inside to join the first one.  “It’s okay,” he said soothingly as Justin squirmed in discomfort at the sensation.  He hated like hell to cause Justin pain, but it was part of the process.  It was necessary to get to what he felt would be the most incredibly pleasurable, mind-blowing encounter he would ever have, and he wanted to make it just as good for Justin, too.  “I know – it hurts,” he acknowledged as Justin’s face contorted in response.  “But it’s all a part of it, Justin.  It will make it so much better when I fuck you.  Breathe – remember to breathe and relax.  Come on, you can do it.” 

 

Justin felt like there was some kind of rod stuck up his ass already and Brian just had a couple of fingers inside of him at the moment.  He could only imagine what it would feel like once the man’s gigantic cock was pushed inside of him.  But he trusted Brian and knew the man must know what he was doing.  Besides, he knew the uncomfortable pain would more than be replaced with something much different soon – at least he hoped so.  He had to find out either way, though; he had to know.  He let out a ragged breath between his lips as he concentrated on doing what Brian said; eventually as his body expanded to accommodate the probing fingers, the pain did ease just a bit.  He forced himself to look into Brian’s hypnotic eyes that were boring into his, silently pleading with him to trust him, to let go, and he focused on letting Brian in, trying to relax despite his body wanting to tense in anticipation of what he knew was about to happen.

 

“Good boy,” Brian murmured approvingly as he was able to fit his fingers in a little more easily.  He really wanted to hit that sweet spot that he knew would drive Justin insane – he didn’t know what he was missing yet – but he also knew what the consequences would be so he held back.  Just a little more…  He slowly spread his fingers apart to scissor the space and prepare Justin for the main event, hearing another sharp intake of breath in response.  He placed his spare hand on Justin’s belly and rubbed the soft, warm flesh lightly in a reassuring up and down motion.  “It’ll be okay,” he practically cooed.  “Look into my eyes, Justin.  Trust me.  We’re going to take a trip you’ll never forget.  Just a little more,” he advised.  “You’re almost there.  Take it easy,” he reminded him.   “Let go and relax.”

 

“That’s a little hard at the moment,” Justin managed to choke out through clenched teeth.  The pain was intense; Brian’s fingers were so far up his ass he thought he might pass out.  He had to do what Brian said and accept the intrusion, though, or he would never be able to accommodate the impressive member that was about to be thrust inside him, and he wanted it.  He wanted Brian, and this was the only way to accomplish it.  “I can handle it,” he told Brian, trying to convince himself as much as the other man.  “Take me,” he begged.  “Do it.” 

 

Brian continued to stroke Justin’s belly for a few seconds longer to give Justin’s heartbeat time to slow down and his body time to adjust; truthfully he was vastly relieved that Justin wanted to continue, because he had no idea how in the hell he could possibly stop now.  His body was craving Justin like a parched man in the desert and there was no turning back.  He took a deep breath of anticipation as he whispered huskily, “I’m going to lift your legs up on my shoulders.  I want to see your face when we fuck.”  He took hold of Justin’s lower legs to lift them over his shoulders as he lined up his cock with Justin’s hole.  “This is going to hurt some more,” he warned gently as Justin’s eyes widened.  “But it’ll be worth it,” he added.  To his credit, Justin swallowed and nodded in understanding as Brian’s heart warmed at his courage.  He knew this wasn’t a pleasant experience for the uninitiated, but Justin had the added burden of working through his fear of the future to be with him, also.  He was confident, though, that no matter what happened, together they would be able to persevere.  It was time for this beautiful bird to fly, and he was determined to be his grateful instructor.  He held onto Justin’s left leg with his right hand and lowered his other hand to help center himself.  “Here goes,” he advised as he pushed in slightly and heard Justin cry out at the invasion.  “Shh,” he softly hushed him as his hand dropped down to start stroking Justin’s belly again comfortingly.  “It’ll be okay.  I’ll go slow with you; just nod when you’re ready for me to continue.”  Just don’t take too long here… Please, he silently beseeched him.  He didn’t know how much longer he could hold out, but he was sure the point of no return was fast approaching.  Fortunately, he didn’t have long to wait as soon Justin nodded at him again and whispered, “More.”

 

Brian nodded back at him and slowly, painstakingly pushed in a little further, hearing Justin cry out once more. 

 

Justin thought he had never felt such exquisite pain in his entire life – it wasn’t quite as bad as the mental anguish he felt whenever he experienced a horrid vision in his head and felt unable to do anything about it, but physically speaking it was the worst he had ever encountered.  “It hurts so bad,” he breathed out, his lungs struggling for air.

 

Brian bit back his disappointment.  “You want me to stop?”  He started to pull his cock back out, but Justin’s hand on his arm stopped him.

 

“No,” Justin told him quickly.  “God, no.  Just do it, Brian.  Get it over with.  I want the pleasure.  I want ALL of it with you.”

 

Brian stared into the glistening eyes reflecting the pain behind them but also the determination and he nodded.  He leaned in just long enough to reassuringly kiss the soft pink lips while he pressed in harder at the same time, swallowing Justin’s gasp of pain through his own mouth before breaking off their kiss to concentrate on his task.  He pressed in deeper, much deeper, until at last he found that indelible spot of unbelievable pleasure.  He watched as Justin’s face transformed from a grimace of hurt into something wondrous and he knew the exact moment when it all changed for his lover.  “Yes,” he breathed out.  “That’s it,” he said as he pulled back out partway and pressed back in more firmly this time, working until he hit Justin’s prostate again.  “Fuck, you feel so good,” he murmured as Justin’s tongue snaked out to swipe across his lower lip in indescribable pleasure and the blond moaned in disbelief.  “So fucking tight, so wonderful,” Brian marveled as he pulled back out slightly and slammed in harder this time.  Justin’s hands reached out to clutch at the other man’s biceps as he began to instinctively move in time with Brian’s thrusts and his face took on a glow of ecstasy.  “Move with me, Justin,” Brian encouraged him as they began to speed up their pace together.  “God, so unbelievable!” he exclaimed as he grunted from the exertion and began to pound into Justin in earnest now. 

 

Justin couldn’t believe the incredible sensations pouring through him; as Brian’s cock thrust in and out of him like a hot, steel rod, the pain he had felt before was quickly forgotten.  Brian’s cock brushed up against part of his body and he bucked off the bed, almost unable to stand the amazing jolt of lust that shot through him.  “Fuck!” he shouted as Brian grinned.  “Oh, my God!”  He didn’t realize when he spread his legs even further in silent invitation for Brian to dive in even deeper; he was too busy reeling from the unspeakable emotions rushing through his body as Brian played him like a fine-tuned instrument and skillfully hit his prostate time and time again as his slender body bucked off the bed to meet his thrusts. 

 

Brian’s sweat dripped from his forehead and tickled Justin’s chest as he rammed in and out of the petite body, marveling at how resilient and strong Justin was.  The man could give as good as he got and seemed to know automatically how to re-angle his body to derive the utmost pleasure for the both of them.  And the sounds erupting from those perfect lips!  They were loud, guttural moans that echoed off the walls and made Brian’s own body respond by slamming into him even more violently as if it were out of his control.  

 

All too soon, he felt his body tensing and knew he was close, oh so close now.  He reached down through the sweat dripping in his eyes to grasp Justin’s cock and began to pump it vigorously in time with his own thrusts as Justin’s moans became louder and more wanton.  “That’s it, Justin, yes,” he told him breathlessly.  “Let loose; come with me.”  He could hear Justin repeatedly calling out his name now like some mantra and it made his movements speed up dramatically.

 

His lover’s command was all it took for Justin to shoot his come across their bodies soon afterward as he screamed out a “fuck!” and “God, Brian!” one last euphoric time and Brian followed immediately with a loud cry of his own, filling the condom to capacity and threatening to overload it from his own mind-blowing climax.  He collapsed helplessly on top of the warm, sticky body under him, unable to move his heavy limbs as his chest heaved in and out in reaction.  He could feel Justin’s heartbeat fluttering impossibly fast beneath him, or was it his own?  Perhaps it was both of theirs, he thought, as he lay there and slowly stroked Justin’s waist in wonder and amazement.

 

He heard Justin groan in disappointment as he finally produced enough strength to roll off the pale, slim body and flop over onto his back beside him, taking deep breaths to try and calm himself enough to speak.  Finally, he turned his head to find Justin gazing back at him silently.  “You okay?” he whispered in concern, unable to accurately determine Justin’s mindset by the look on his face.  “Did I hurt you?  Justin?” He was beginning to get concerned when finally a smile broke out on his lover’s face and he relaxed somewhat.

 

Justin shook his head.  “No,” he softly replied as he reached his left hand out to place it on Brian’s chest, feeling the strong, erratic heart beating underneath.  The older man’s skin was still hot and sweaty from their lovemaking; yes, that was what he was calling it, even though he daren’t say it aloud for fear Brian would look at him like some foolish schoolboy.  He believed Brian truly cared for him, but he had yet to ascertain just how much.  For him, though, he was quickly discovering that his feelings ran quite deep for this man.  “That… That was incredible,” he managed at last to whisper out as Brian flashed a crooked smile back at him tenderly and his heart did a flip flop in response.  “I had no idea it could be that good.” 

 

Brian chuckled lightly at Justin’s statement and watched as his face reddened in embarrassment.  “Don’t be embarrassed,” he assured him as he grinned.  “It can be like that all the time – with the right partner.”  He wasn’t sure why he had said partner instead of something else, but with Justin it felt right.  “Your ass may be sore for a few days,” he warned him.  “But the more you do it, the easier it will become.  We’ll just have to get it thoroughly worked-in.”

 

Justin’s heart skipped a beat at the look Brian was giving him; did that mean he intended to do this with him over and over again?  He fervently hoped so, because after this earth-shattering experience, he had a feeling it would be all he could think about.  It had been a life-changing event for him and now he couldn’t wait to do it over and over again with this man, while at the same time exploring different ways to pleasure each other.  The thought of exploring every inch of Brian’s body with kisses, sucks, and licks began to make him impossibly hard again; what would it feel like to take possession of the man’s impressive cock with his lips?  He squirmed slightly in discomfort at the thought, watching Brian’s eyes narrow in reaction.  ShitHe’s on to me, he thought with chagrin as Brian curled his lips under and smiled at him.

 

“Now that you’ve had a taste of me, Picasso, you’re ready for another round already?” he asked teasingly.  He already knew the answer to that, though – it was written all over Justin’s face and the darkened, expressive eyes, not to mention the man’s cock that was rising to the occasion once more.  And he thought HIS libido was high; this man just might equal him in that department… “Don’t worry… I’m just getting started with you,” he huskily informed him as his eyes slowly raked down the sweaty, glistening body of his lover’s, coming to rest on the hardening cock.  His thoughts roamed to what it would feel like for Justin’s lips to encase his cock in their silky sweetness as his own dick began to respond in kind. 

 

He rolled over to the far side of the bed and quickly stood up as Justin’s eyes widened in alarm. 

 

“Where are you going?” he asked.  Had he done something to upset or disappoint Brian?  If not, why was he leaving so soon?  He had had this ridiculously foolish notion of snuggling in Brian’s arms as they drifted off to sleep in his bed, but it appeared that Brian had other plans.  “You’re leaving?” he asked, his lips taking on the beginnings of a pout as he watched Brian walk around the end of the bed and come to stand next to him.  Any second he expected the detective to reach down to the floor to pick up his clothes to put them on, but to his relief Brian shook his head and smiled.

 

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he gently chided him as he held his hand out to him.  “Get up – you and I are going to take a shower together and clean up.  And then after we fuck in the shower, we’re going to clean up again.  And again… And again.” 

 

Justin’s face flushed an even deeper shade of red at the outright lust on Brian’s face.  How could he resist such a delicious temptation as that?  He slowly propped his upper body up with his elbows for a couple of seconds before he smiled in delight and scooted over to the edge of the bed like an eager puppy to take Brian’s hand and stand up next to him. 

 

As soon as they were facing each other, Brian grabbed Justin by the upper arms and crushed their mouths together again, tongues coming out simultaneously as they deepened the kiss.  Justin’s own hands slid around Brian’s neck to lock behind it as he sighed against the probing lips.  He could get used to this treatment, he thought blissfully.  He jumped slightly as Brian’s hands slid around the two fleshy globes of his ass and began to knead them possessively.  He groaned softly at the predatory sensation as they finally broke apart from each other.

 

“I can’t wait to show you what rimming is,” Brian whispered in his ear in a sexy tone of voice as Justin shivered.  “You have the hottest ass.”  He really had no idea what rimming meant, but it sounded dirty as hell and instantly made him even harder.  Whatever pleasures of the flesh his lover was proposing – lover – what a wonderful word that was! – he was definitely game now that he knew what some of it entailed.  Before, he had merely been dreaming about it; now he knew the truth – having sex with another man, especially one like Brian, was absolutely mindboggling and so much more than he could have ever envisioned. 

 

“I think a shower sounds quite appealing,” he said formally with a grin as Brian laughed at his choice of words.  “I happen to feel really dirty at the moment.”

 

Brian whispered, “Not as dirty as I am, Mr. Taylor, believe me.  Let’s go get cleaned off so we can get dirty again.”  He tugged rather impatiently at Justin in eager anticipation as he wrapped his arm around the blond’s waist, hugging the man to him as together they hurried toward the bathroom.

 

As they entered the shower stall a few minutes later and their lovemaking began anew, Justin’s previous fear of any unknown future for them rapidly evaporated under Brian’s touch.  He still wasn’t sure what was in store for them, but at that moment the worry vanished like the soapy water that was rapidly swirling into the drain below.  There would be time later for fear and trepidation; for now, this was his reality and it was a wonderful one.

Chapter Text

Justin's heart raced as he marveled at what Brian's light touch could do to his senses; after his lover's initial, gentle lovemaking earlier, their passion had flared anew in the shower and he had found himself being fucked to within an inch of his life as Brian had whirled him against the tile wall of the shower stall and had plunged back into him over and over; now as both men returned to his bed where it had all begun earlier in the evening, Justin was lying on his stomach at Brian's urging, his head turned toward the right as his lover's left hand lightly skimmed just the barest of touches down the center of his spine, making his skin tingle and ripple in response. He had never realized he was ticklish there before; of course, up until now he had never had a man, much less such a gorgeous one as Brian, touching him like this, either. Needless to say, he found anything Brian did to be highly erotic; he seemed to be a master when it came to pleasuring him. He wondered wistfully just how many lovers Brian had had; someone as magnificent-looking as this man must have had his choice of hundreds by now. He frowned a little, trying hard not to think about that as he concentrated instead on the here and now, shivering slightly as he lay there feeling so exposed – partly from the cool night air and partly from the heated stare of Brian's gaze raking over his body so intently as his hand continued its light exploration.

 

"You are so fucking beautiful," Brian couldn't help murmuring appreciatively from his place at Justin's side, not noticing the slightly troubled look that appeared fleetingly on Justin's face; his head was propped up on one elbow as his relished in teasing his lover with just the barest whisper of a caress as his eyes slowly skimmed over the trim, delightfully-curved body and the pale, lightly-fuzzed skin of Justin's legs and arms. He was still becoming familiar with how Justin reacted to various overtures, and found that at least with him, it didn't take much for the blond to respond. Every kiss, every nip of his teeth, every lick with his tongue, and every touch with his hands seemed to produce a sigh, a shiver, or a whimper of pleasure from his lover and he found it very arousing. He was so used by now to fucking jaded, horny tricks who had probably seen and done it all that to find someone who responded so readily and enthusiastically to his every movement was highly intoxicating as well as refreshing; it actually brought back memories of his own first time, although he had been quite a bit younger and it had been years ago. And as he marveled at the beauty in front of him, he decided that being Justin's first lover was definitely the icing on the cake. With Justin he wanted to show him all the pleasures he could teach him, including what he was about to do now.

 

He reached over to lightly feather the long hair at the back of Justin's neck reassuringly before he rose to his knees and in one fluid movement, gently nudged Justin's legs in a silent invitation for him to spread them farther apart. He crawled over to sit back on his haunches between them, admiring the two, perfectly curved cheeks of the hottest ass he had ever had the pleasure of laying his eyes on. His mouth practically salivated at the thought of finally getting a taste of the ass that he had been ogling for the past few hours, but he also knew as with everything else regarding Justin and sex, he had to take things a little more slowly then he normally would.

 

Sure enough, he noticed Justin's eyes widening in what appeared to be both slight anxiety as well as curiosity as he reached down and lightly stroked the back of his thighs in reassurance with the tips of his fingers. "It's okay," he spoke softly with a slightly lopsided grin. "You're going to fucking love this." I know I certainly will, he thought to himself as he leaned down and bestowed a brief kiss on the cleft in the small of Justin's back before he slowly lowered himself over the slender body and began to crawl up Justin's ass and lower back until he was lying draped completely on top of the smaller frame. He could hear Justin's gasp in reaction as his cock rubbed up against his glistening skin, clearly signaling Brian's strong desire for him as the brunet began to lightly nibble on Justin's neck and shoulders with his lips and teeth.

 

"I'm going to give you the rimming of your life," Brian growled softly as his hands began to caress Justin's arms while he slowly began to move back down his body; he curled the tip of his tongue before he began to leave a languorous, wet journey down the center of Justin's spine, hearing Justin's breathing hitching at the unexpected, erotic sensation. Under his tongue, Justin tasted salty from the sweat peppering his skin as his hands moved over to the sides of Justin's waist to firmly hold onto him and anchor him to the bed; he was amazed at how soft and warm Justin's skin felt, how unblemished and smooth it was as he ever so slowly continued his sensual journey down his body. The tip of his hardening dick momentarily rubbed up against the crease of Justin's ass, signaling what was in store soon as it stiffened even more simply at the thought. Brian couldn't help thinking as he came nearer and nearer to his delicious goal that Justin without a doubt had to have the most wondrous-looking ass he had ever seen; it was almost as if a sculptor had taken clay and molded the perfect body part out of the most pliable material, because nobody could have any better-looking curves on an ass than this one. The rest of his beautiful lover wasn't half-bad, either; not by a long shot.

 

He slid his hands closer to the middle of Justin's body as he placed them on either side of his goal and slowly used his thumbs to pull back the rounded flesh, exposing the freshly-scrubbed, wrinkled pucker that was just waiting to be sampled. He sucked in a breath of appreciation before his tongue continued its journey a few inches further down until it arrived at its tasty destination. He blew on it, hearing Justin's sharp intake of breath above him at the unexpected action. "You like that?" he murmured huskily. "We're just getting warmed up," Brian advised his lover as his head lifted momentarily to stare up at the arched pale and smooth skin in his immediate line of vision.

 

"Brian," Justin whispered out his name a little nervously as he squirmed slightly, not sure how to adequately express the emotions coursing through him. Just when he thought Brian had showed him all that there was to know about the pleasures of sex, the man came up with something new that was even more incredible. He knew Brian had mentioned doing this earlier, but at the time he had had no idea what it meant; apparently, though, he was about to find out. A few seconds later, all coherent thought as well as breath escaped him as he felt Brian's tongue actually lapping around his hole in a swirling motion like a cat licking its cream and his entire upper body arched off the bed in response.

 

"Fuck!" he cried out as he heard Brian chuckle at his vocal, immediate reaction; he could feel the man's lips vibrating against his skin in amusement and he felt his dick hardening to a painful level. "That… That is…" He struggled to form a series of intelligible words together in order to make a complete sentence and adequately describe just what that particular action had done to him and what it made him feel like – sexy and dirty all at the same time and almost like he was having some sort of out-of-body experience – but his linguistic ability suddenly left him as Brian stuck his head back down and began to resume his sensual exploration of a part the man hadn't been up close and personal with yet, at least not with his tongue. As Brian again pulled his cheeks apart with his thumbs and Justin felt cool night air washing over him, he tensed up a little in anticipation; he could only imagine what his lover was going to do now. Brian had been so careful and so gentle earlier when he had used his fingers to loosen him up before they had made love for the first time, and now his tongue – his hot, wet, thick tongue – was once more licking an even more determined trail toward the center of his ass, presently making swirling patterns around his twitching opening again. Surely he wouldn't…?

 

"Argggghhh!" he screamed out as Brian promptly did exactly what he was fantasizing about; he stuck his rigid, curled-up tongue inside Justin's freshly-washed ass and proceeded to slide it in and out, the wet, slippery feeling driving him insane with desire. "Oh, my God!" he cried out; the sensation was unlike anything he had ever felt before as Brian placed his long-fingered hands palm down on his ass cheeks to hold him firmly in place and continued to probe him forcefully with his tongue. Holding Justin down was probably a wise decision on Brian's part, the blond realized, because his whole body felt like it was on fire and could buck off the bed at any moment.

 

Brian again marveled at how each touch made Justin mad with lust; he knew Justin was inexperienced, but it seemed like everything he did was intensified ten-fold with this man. He found it hot as hell. "Don't come yet," he warned the beautiful, sweaty blond as he placed his lips against Justin's ass crease, knowing by the tensing of Justin's body that he was likely to do just that at any second. While it turned him on incredibly to know that Justin could climax just by the feel of his tongue in his ass, there was something else he preferred to have in there at the moment. He reluctantly lifted his fingers from the soft, fleshy skin, noting that there were finger marks where he had been grasping Justin's ass so tightly. He grimaced in regret; he hadn't been trying to leave his mark there literally, but if he hadn't held onto his lover so tightly he was convinced the man would have thrown him off the bed.

 

He could see Justin breathing heavily underneath him and knew he had to get his cock inside his ass pronto, or he would have to wait for another go-round before he could fuck him again. His own dick was throbbing from neglect as he leaned up on his knees and reached to turn Justin over onto his back; the blond's eyes immediately peered up at him like some passion-seeking missile, dark and expressive, the pupils wide and lust-filled. God, the man was so fucking incredible, Brian couldn't help thinking as he gazed down into the flushed face; he could tell Justin was trying hard to hold back his orgasm, but he could tell by the drawn lines in his young lover's face and the tension in his body that he was close – so close.

 

Brian never took his eyes off Justin as he reached over by feel to locate yet another condom package and, bringing it up to his teeth, he quickly ripped the top of the package open and spit the bit of paper out to retrieve condom number three. Justin's eyes widened almost imperceptibly as he watched Brian lean down and slide the latex onto his cock; as the tip of Justin's tongue snaked out sexily to moisten his full lips, Brian moaned softly in anticipation of what was to come. At that moment, just from that night's passion-filled activities, he honestly felt he could never grow tired of making love with this complex man. Justin was so innocent in so many ways and yet by life experience and by fate he was older way beyond his years. He was going to enjoy getting to know this man better – much better. "So fucking hot," Brian murmured as Justin's face flushed even darker over the compliment. He leaned down to kiss the dusky-pink lips deeply as Justin pulled his legs up to link them behind Brian's slick back and lock them together. "I'm never going to get my fill of you," he confessed as he pushed in easily this time; their times together and his earlier ministrations making Justin just a bit less tight than before. This time, also, Justin knew instinctively what to do to increase their mutual pleasure as his body lifted slightly off the bed each time to meet Brian's thrusts.

 

"So tight… So good," Brian murmured, his voice a soft growl as the two of them began to rock together while he forcefully thrust in and out, his body rippling like a sensual wave as the two moved together as one. As they continued, Brian knew quickly that his lover wasn't the only one who was quickly reaching the point of no return, but he wanted, no, he needed more. He roughly grasped Justin's thighs and pulled his lover's legs down from behind his back. Justin gazed up at him in question just before Brian promptly threw his legs over his shoulders and folded Justin in half so he could lean down and passionately kiss the now-swollen, ravaged lips over and over again, his hands coming down to lock Justin's head in place with his long fingers as they kissed and kissed, his tongue pushing inside for superiority.

 

Justin couldn't believe what he was feeling as Brian made love to him again as he kissed him deeply – this couldn't be real, this couldn't be happening, he kept thinking as he held firmly onto Brian's back while they continued to fuck, his legs bent at the knees as Brian kept kissing him endlessly – his lips, his cheeks, his neck, his eyes and then back to his lips once more. Never in his wildest dreams could he have fully comprehended just what the right type of lover could do to him and how it would make him feel. Never in a million years could he believe he could feel this incredible. Brian was taking him to the heights of ecstasy and then beyond; he couldn't imagine a more skillful, passionate, gentle but sensual lover. He couldn't help thinking at that moment how grateful he was that he had decided to take a chance and give himself freely at last to someone like this man.

 

Brian's eyes narrowed a little in curiosity as be broke off their kissing briefly and watched what appeared to be a myriad of emotions washing over Justin's face. "You okay?" he whispered; his voice was raspy from exertion as he paused his rocking motion just for a moment to gaze into the deep blue eyes. He was rewarded with a small smile and a nod.

 

"Yes," Justin said as they peered into each other's eyes and time stood still just for a brief time. "I'm more than okay," he assured him. "Don't stop," he pleaded with Brian. "Don't you dare stop," he breathed out. "Harder… I want it harder; God, give it to me," Justin surprised himself by demanding.

 

Brian stared at the dark-filled eyes and ravaged lips both in amusement as well as desire as he whispered huskily in relief, "You got it." If Justin had wanted him to stop, he would have found some way to do that, but the way his body was wired so tightly like a high-strung instrument at the moment, it would have taken considerable willpower to do so as he nodded and began to push in savagely; stronger, rougher, harder, deeper. He heard Justin cry out in pleasure as he hit his sweet spot over and over again; the two kept kissing over and over, their tongues thrusting in time with the rest of their bodies as finally, Brian knew he couldn't hold back much longer. He reached down and began to slide his hand up and down the hot, throbbing, profusely-leaking shaft of his lover as he heard Justin whimper, moan and keen all at once in a sort of guttural, primitive cry as the younger man clenched his ass around his cock and violently exploded, providing more than enough incentive for Brian to cry out himself as he came hard inside his lover's body. He had always snickered at the men who claimed when they had the best orgasms that they could literally see flashes of light in their head, but he wasn't laughing at them any longer; his entire body erupted into a supernova as he came, his seed filling the extra-large condom in record time as Justin had just enough time to drop his legs to either side of Brian before the brunet collapsed, totally spent, on top of Justin's slender body. He was oblivious to time and place, only aware of the sensations still pulsing through him so violently that his breathing came out in giant puffs of oxygen-deprived air.

 

The air was ripe with the scent of their sex-soaked bodies as they lay there in a tangled heap of arms and legs on the bed, both men trying to come down from their incredible high. Brian's left hand wound up on top of Justin's dampened crown of golden hair, his right on the other man's shoulder as he felt Justin's own hands snake around to his lower back and slide slowly up and down his skin in a lazy pattern. He smiled against Justin's shoulder as he felt his lover's hands slowly inching farther down toward his ass. "Be careful where you put those hands, Mr. Taylor," he softly murmured against the crook of Justin's neck. "I may have to take you into custody for corrupting a police officer and put you on full house arrest."

 

He slowly raised his head to stare into his lover's twinkling blue eyes as he took his left hand and tenderly pushed some soaked hair back from Justin's forehead. His breathing, along with Justin's, was ever so slowly returning back to normal and his body felt like an anvil as he lay on top of him; he was sated, spent, and totally, unbelievably content at the moment. It was both an exhilarating as well as scary feeling to feel so deeply for another man – especially one he wouldn't have normally been caught dead with. A blond, a young one at that, and an inexperienced lover to boot? Oh, he'd had his share of virgins over the years and always enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, the joy of fucking the tightest asses, at least until he had them, but one night and he was done with them. Why did his detective's instincts tell him that this would not be the case with Justin? He wasn't sure how he knew, but as he gazed into the endless blue eyes staring up at him drowsily, he realized without a doubt that he was right.

 

"Stay," Justin whispered as Brian moved to twist off him to take his much heavier body weight from his. He kept his hands firmly around Brian's lower back in a silent entreaty for him not to move, at least for now, as Brian finally nodded and with a slight smile draped his body over the smaller one, relishing in the incredible feel of the two of them lying together. Justin's come was practically sticking to them like glue and soon they would be forced to go back to the shower again as a result, but he wasn't exactly complaining. A good cleaning followed by a mutual blow job seemed quite acceptable to him. For now, though, he was more than content to just lie there with his lover, feeling his and Justin's heartbeats seemingly beating as one.

 

Finally after a few minutes he felt compelled to turn to the side and flop over on his back, if only to give Justin the chance to breathe again without his weight pressing into his lungs. As he tied off the condom and threw it down beside the bed, he heard a soft groan of disappointment, silently feeling the same way, as he lay beside Justin on the bed that was barely big enough to hold both of them and listened to the softer, more regular pants of breath coming from beside him. He turned his head to the side to notice Justin staring back at him silently, his heavy-lidded eyes boring into his.

 

Justin reached over with his hand to link his fingers with Brian's as he smiled slightly and simply said, "Thank you."

 

Brian lifted his eyebrows in question. "Thank you? For what?" Brian smiled back at him lazily as he idly played with Justin's fingers clasped in his. "Hmm?" he prompted.

 

Justin blushed as he told him, "I want to thank you for being so gentle with me; for being so patient. This whole night has been… Indescribable."

 

"I can assure you, Kreskin, we have both benefitted from this little activity. You have no need to thank me, trust me." If I were truthful with you, Justin, I should be thanking YOU… For a LOT of things. He smiled back at his lover as he stared into the sleepy-looking eyes and impulsively brought their hands up to his mouth to kiss the slender, pale fingers one by one, noticing Justin watching his every move intently with those eyes that were so intriguing to him, so engrossing. It was as if every little movement was so fascinating to Justin; it was such a change of pace from the tired, worn-out tricks he indulged in from time to time. "I find it so hard to believe," Brian murmured to him as he dropped their twined hands down onto his stomach to capture the smaller hand against his and stare back over at the beautiful man lying next to him.

 

Justin gazed back into the hazel eyes and frowned slightly. "You find what hard to believe?" he whispered a little anxiously. He was afraid for a moment that Brian would say he was finding it hard to believe that he could be interested in such an inexperienced lover as he was. Was the man bored with him already?

 

But as Brian smiled back at him so tenderly and slowly caressed his fingers, his doubts faded as his lover explained, "I find it so hard to believe that someone like you hasn't been fucked into oblivion yet," he stated simply in his own 'romantic' way. As Justin flushed at the compliment, Brian softly asked, "All this time you've been afraid of loving someone because of what you might see in the future?" As Justin swallowed a lump in his throat at the word love and silently nodded, Brian shook his head slightly before saying, "That's a big burden to carry around, Justin; that's no way for someone like you to live." He couldn't imagine this man who felt things so deeply being subjected to living his life alone; what a waste. "Well, you're not alone anymore," Brian found himself saying as Justin's eyes filled with tears. "Hey," he whispered softly as Justin shook his head as if to say he was okay despite the waterworks. "Justin…"

 

"I'm okay," Justin found his voice to say as he reached up with his free hand to wipe some wetness away with the back of his hand, almost in embarrassment. He struggled to say what he needed to say to this man that he had come to care a great deal about in such a short time, perhaps cared about too much; the thought of what might happen in the future still continued to haunt him, even after Brian's assurances that everything would be just fine. "It was safer," he began to explain. "For both of us."

 

"And now?" Brian prompted quietly as he continued to stare into the beautiful, slightly troubled face. "Do you have any regrets about what we did?" God, he certainly hoped not.

 

Justin gazed into the confident , unblinking eyes for a moment. "No… No regrets," he firmly assured Brian with a shy smile; he could feel the other man's strong heartbeat under his fingers lying on his chest, giving him the courage to continue. "But I'd be lying if I said I still wasn't worried. Carruthers…"

 

"Carruthers is in custody and isn't going anywhere, Justin," Brian firmly stated. His face contorted in anger at the mere thought. "The man killed all those kids and almost killed my son," he said, his voice harsh and almost unrecognizable in its quiet anger. "He's never going to see the light of day again."

 

"He… He won't be eligible for the death penalty?" Justin asked him in surprise; if anyone deserved something like execution, it had to be this man who had preyed on so many young, innocent lives.

 

Brian snorted. "Yes, he might be, but it's a fucking joke! There've only been three inmates executed from Death Row in the State since 1976! Most of the fuckers die of natural causes before their execution date! At Carruther's age, he'll probably rot in jail before he rots in hell where he belongs!" Brian's facial features softened as he noticed the pain appearing on Justin's face; how did such a glorious night of lovemaking turn all of a sudden to this horrible subject? Normally, it was unheard of for him to actually want to have a meaningful conversation with anyone he had just fucked, but with Justin he knew this was much more than just a one-night stand, at least if HE had anything to say about it.

 

"Hey, it's going to be okay, Justin; the man will get his punishment one way or the other." Once more he lifted Justin's hand, this time to kiss the back of it as he held it briefly against his cheek, relishing the warmth and softness he found there before he once more laid it back down on top of his chest. "But at least for tonight, let's not think about him, okay?" He smiled at his lover. "I'd much rather think of something a lot more pleasant, wouldn't you?" Brian didn't want to tell Justin that Carruthers would unfortunately no doubt be a part of their lives for some time to come, whether they wanted him to be or not, but for tonight at least he wanted all thoughts of that horrible man completely banished from their lives. For tonight, he wanted to concentrate solely on the fascinating man lying next to him and he wanted to focus on giving him as much pleasure as he could in part to pay him back for helping to save his son's life.

 

Justin's face warmed at the intense, unmistakable look of desire on Brian's face; he still found it so incredible that someone like this powerful, formidable man could find him so attractive. But he was extremely grateful, however, because he felt exactly the same way. Brian's kisses earlier had affected him deeply, but to actually make love with the man had been so much more than he had ever dreamed possible. And now here they were, actually lying together in his bed. Shit. Just the mere reality of that was almost enough to make him come again as he felt himself growing hard at the thought of Brian's hands roaming all over his body anew and the man thrusting in and out of his body again. "Justin?"

 

At the sound of Brian's sexy voice, he blinked to regain his focus, embarrassed to have been caught daydreaming; at least it definitely beat the horrible 'dreams' he normally had. "I'm sorry," he mumbled sheepishly. "What were you saying?"

 

Brian grinned, wondering what his lover had been thinking about; from the dreamy look on his face and the soft smile he had been wearing, it definitely hadn't had anything to do with Carruthers. He silently hoped that he had been thinking about him as he huskily said, "We need to get cleaned up before too long. How about you and I take another shower and do our part for water conservation?"

 

Justin flushed at the tone of Brian's voice, but pulled himself together enough to saucily tell him with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, "Oh, that's okay; we have an energy-saving showerhead. I was always taught guests first."

 

He squeaked slightly in startled surprise as he soon found Brian lying on top of him, his arms pinned to his sides next to his head as the man growled, "I'll make you think guests first." He leaned down to kiss his lover, beginning with a gentle caress of Justin's lips that soon turned into a deep, penetrating probe of every millimeter of the inside of his mouth as he pushed his tongue greedily inside. He heard Justin moan against his lips as, mouth to mouth, they practically sucked the living essence out of each other for several seconds before Brian reluctantly pulled back enough to growl softly, "Now get that tight little ass out of this bed now!" He smacked Justin on the belly just before he twisted around in the bed and stood up next to his side. Reaching down with his hand, Justin quickly reached for it and allowed himself to be pulled firmly from the bed as he smiled impishly with a look that told Brian he had gotten exactly what he had wanted all along.

 

"Little fucker," he replied as he leaned down for one more quick kiss before beginning to pull his lover toward the compact bathroom. "You'll pay for that."

 

He heard Justin softly quip, "I'll be counting on it," before he led them toward the shower.

 


 

2:00 a.m.

 

Daphne quietly unlocked the door to her and Justin's apartment, noting only the small, plug-in nightlight glowing faintly near the small, messy wooden telephone desk located next to the couch; knowing Justin had, indeed, gotten home okay because the light hadn't been turned on when she had left, she crept over to the nearby kitchen counter and placed her keys down before walking the few steps over to the refrigerator to retrieve a plastic bottle of water. Clutching it in her hand and somewhat tired due to the late hour, she quietly shuffled down the hallway, noticing that the door to Justin's bedroom, which was situated on the other side of the bathroom, was closed and no light was shining from underneath; apparently her roommate was fast asleep after his day's outing with Kinney. She paused, hesitating as to whether to go check on him and obtain more details about his adventure with the handsome but cocky detective before she decided not to risk disturbing him and turned to walk down the opposite end of the short hallway to her own room. A few minutes later and dressed in an old, comfortable, light-green tee-shirt and a pair of baggy, cotton, white-and-green striped pajama bottoms, she slid under the covers of her bed and was quickly asleep, recollections of her own special day coming readily to mind in her dreams.

 


 

Two Hours Later

 

Deep in slumber after his and Brian's marathon activities earlier, Justin burrowed deeper into Brian's chest, his body turned on its side facing him as he lay half-on, half-off his lover's longer frame; their legs were intertwined together as Justin's hand lay curved under his chin, Brian's arm wrapped around his waist as he, too, slept soundly. They were both fully sated as well as worn out after their lovemaking rounds; Justin had been thrilled when a drowsy Brian had asked him earlier if he could just stay there for the night rather than driving home. As if Brian had to even ask; Justin was delighted beyond words at the thought of one of his most erotic dreams coming true: making love with this magnificent man, followed by sleeping in the same bed with him and waking up in Brian's arms the next morning. He had responded to Brian's request by leading his lover back almost shyly to the bed after their shower and, after sliding under the cool, somewhat worn cotton sheets, pulling them back as he extended his hand outward toward the brunet; Brian had smiled in that lopsided, sexy way of his before taking his hand and slowly joining him in bed to bestow a deep kiss on the willing lips. After several seconds of tongue-fucking, the two had broken apart and slid further down into the bed, lying on their sides as they simply gazed at each other silently before Justin's eyes fluttered closed; Brian took a few moments to indulge in studying his beautiful lover's peaceful-looking face in slumber before he, too, succumbed to his weariness and both men found themselves sound asleep moments later. Even though they had started out about a foot apart in the bed, it hadn't taken long before they had found themselves in each other's arms as they soundlessly drifted deeper and deeper into sleep and the cares of the outer world fell away.

 

As he lay there in Brian's arms an hour later, Justin had just finished a wonderful dream of him, Brian, and Gus spending a quiet, uneventful, but happy day at one of the local parks. It appeared to be a beautiful, warm, spring day – tulips in all kinds of red, orange and yellow hues were in full bloom among a scattering of purple and pink hyacinths, their beautiful fragrance filling the air around them. The trees were softly adorned with the newness of the season's first set of leaves as they swayed lightly in the breeze, and there were yellow forsythia bushes ringing the park's playground where he and Brian sat holding hands on one of the well-loved, wooden park benches surrounding the play area, watching Gus as he swung excitedly higher and higher on one of the nearby swings. The sounds of other children shrieking in joy and crying out excitedly could be heard as they chased each other around the playground. He and Brian couldn't help grinning at Gus, who had such a beaming look of delight on his face as he urged two men to watch him swing higher and higher.

 

"Look at me, Jus'n! Look at me, Daddy!" Gus was calling over to them as his long legs pumped up and down and he reached higher and higher heights before Brian had to call over to him to slow down somewhat. Gus had turned into a regular daredevil, Brian was telling him, having suffered several scrapes and bruises over the past few months as he had learned how to ride a bike for the first time without training wheels and had learned how to skate. But Justin could hear the distinct pride in his lover's voice as he spoke about his son, and while he had no way of knowing for sure, his heart told him that in his dream, he and Brian had been together for several months now. He smiled in his sleep over that wonderful thought as his body subconsciously snuggled even more into Brian's side; even in slumber, he could feel Brian's arm tighten more around his waist in response and it filled him with contentment and warmth.

 

He sighed as the happy dream slowly dissipated and a new one started to emerge. This one, too, was starkly vivid, apparently taking place at some sort of amusement park just before dusk. In his mind's eye, he was standing in the middle of a deserted midway, the booths previously holding stuffed toys, games, and food now empty and forlorn, long ago abandoned, their green and white awnings tore and flapping in the wind. The garish blue, orange, and yellow paint that had adorned the sides of the booths was now faded and scratched, defaced by vandals and by the ravages of weather and time. The asphalt pavement of the midway was more gray than black now, with clumps of weeds growing up between the cracks that ran like small rivers among the surface.

 

As Justin slipped deeper into REM sleep, he could make out several rides still standing forgotten among the midway booths. He could see a tall, white, wooden, double rollercoaster track behind a booth advertising hot dogs and hamburgers, the absence of any sound or cars on the track eerily spooky. He also recognized open "Dodge-Em" ride enclosure, housing some of the cars still parked over by the back wall as if they were waiting for patrons to rush toward them and bring life back to them once more as they purposely bumped into each other; he could almost hear the electrical hiss from the tail of the cars as they brushed up against the electrical current overhead. He noticed a ride he recognized as a large pirate ship situated at the end of the midway, the kind that swung like a large, grotesque pendulum back and forth as ride goers faced each other as it climbed higher and higher, much like Gus's swing in the earlier dream.

 

But whereas Gus's innocent, joyous actions made him happy inside, this dream made him worried and disconcerted for some reason. The only sound he could hear as he stood there on the pavement was the rush of the wind that had suddenly increased, possibly portending a storm to come; the clouds were moving across the sky quickly now, dark, billowy ones off in the distance as he looked all around him, trying to figure out why he was here in this strange, unfamiliar place all alone. Where had everyone gone? Where was this place? And how had he gotten here?

 

All of a sudden, his heart threatened to jump out of his chest as he heard the sound of a carrousel calliope suddenly starting up nearby; why hadn't he seen that ride earlier? And how was it possible for the ride to be operating when the park was abandoned and deserted?

 

The large, globe-shaped lights on the calliope began to flicker and then come on steadily in the quickly-disappearing day, shades of yellow, red, and white flashing in progression as the carrousel began to slowly turn on its anchored circle and the horses with their painted-on faces began to move up and down on silver poles. The music became louder and louder as an off-key rendition of some old-time song he recognized but didn't know by title began to play on the calliope pipes. The carrousel seemed to turn faster and faster as the lights increased in intensity, almost blinding him as he watched the horses gliding rapidly by; their docile faces seemed to slowly morph into grotesque expressions of maniacal power and defiance as their fiberglass lips appeared to move and they bared their teeth.

 

Justin found himself riveted to the spot, feeling the rushing air on his face as the carrousel got faster and faster and the music grew louder and louder; his heart pounded and he felt dizzy as he thought he saw the blur of a person's form flash by on one of the horses, but he knew that wasn't possible… Was it?

 

He wanted to run; he wanted to escape before the carrousel made another turn, dreading what he might see, but his feet seemed grounded tightly to the pavement as the carrousel began to slow down dramatically. He closed his eyes in fear, hoping desperately that the macabre scene in front of him would simply vanish from his sight when he opened them again, hearing the music decreasing in volume and slowing down in tempo, just like the ride; the wind that had been rushing against his face suddenly died down, too, until the air felt pregnant and heavy with dread.

 

Finally, he felt himself being forced by some unknown power to reopen his eyes as he sensed a thickness in the air; the raucous sounds that had come from the blaring calliope were gone now, replaced by an unnatural stillness; no birds, no wind, no sounds at all except for the decreasing grinding of the carrousel's gears as the ride slowly came to a stop. His breathing increased and his heart pounded even harder as he slowly opened his eyes. The horses were moving up and down now almost in slow motion as the ride agonizingly made its last turn around its track; the lights were still brightly lit that ringed the inside of the ride as the merry-go-round made its last circuit and the final group of horses, now back to a more normal appearance, slowly came within sight of him.

 

It took a few seconds for his brain to register that there was, indeed, a male riding on one of the horses – alone – as he came into sharper focus. As the ride slowed down to a stop, the man began to smile, an evil, malevolent smile, a smile that he had never seen on that particular face before. But it was a face he instantly recognized as the horse's rider came closer and closer to him and he reached his burly, paint-stained hand out, extending it straight toward Justin.

 

"It's your turn," Carruthers said.

 


 

Lost in a languorous world of his own and deep in slumber, Brian first became aware of something being different when he felt the man in his arms beginning to stir restlessly; that was followed by a soft murmuring coming from Justin's lips. He slowly began to surface from the depths of sleep as Justin continued to move slightly, only to be jarred immediately awake when Justin suddenly let out a bloodcurdling scream of "No!" and bolted up in the bed as he wrenched himself free of his arms; his chest was heaving in and out as if he had just run a 25-mile marathon.

 

Brian's eyes popped open as he observed the sweat plastered to Justin's forehead and his lover gasping for air; his hands were covering his face as he shook his head and kept murmuring, "No, no, no…"

 

Brian pulled himself up to a sitting position and reached for Justin's shoulders. "Justin…" He was immediately pushed away as Justin removed his hands from his eyes and blindly began to flail his arms as if he were warding off an unseen attacker.

 

"Justin!" he shouted now as he forcefully grabbed the blond's wrists. "It's Brian! Listen to me! You're okay, Justin! Open your eyes and look at me! Justin!" he shouted more authoritatively in his best detective's voice.

 

"No, no, no…."

 

"Justin, it's me... Brian! Come on, open your eyes; don't be afraid!" Brian urged him as finally Justin did as he was told and the eyelashes fluttered open to gaze anxiously over at him. Brian could see the change in his expression as the blue eyes focused on his face; Justin seemed to slump his shoulders in relief as he became aware of where he was and who he was with as he looked into the familiar but worried face of his lover.

"Brian?"

 

The detective nodded as he released Justin's arms and cupped his face in his hands. "Yeah, it's me," he replied softly, concern etched on his handsome face as he looked intently into Justin's eyes. "What happened? Did you have a bad dream?" He watched in dismay as Justin's eyes promptly filled with tears in reaction and he shook his head no.

 

"No…, I mean yes… I mean, God!" Justin cried out in agony as he thought about the horrible vision he had just seen. He took a deep breath to calm himself as he tried to concentrate instead on Brian's warm fingers softly caressing his face in reassurance that he was safe; he only wished he felt that way. "It wasn't a bad dream, Brian," he finally whispered painfully as his eyes lifted to look into the hazel ones.

 

Brian studied the fearful look on Justin's face as he replied, "Well, it certainly seemed that way to me. I know you couldn't have been dreaming about what we did earlier," he murmured with a soft smile, trying to lighten the tension somehow. He would never verbalize it to Justin, but their lovemaking had definitely not been bad by any means; it had been pretty damn amazing, actually, although he somehow had an idea that Justin already knew that anyway. For an inexperienced lover, Justin had proven earlier to be his match in every way.

 

His attempts at defusing the pain on Justin's face failed miserably, however, as Justin briefly closed his eyes again and verified, "It wasn't a dream; it was another vision." He slowly opened his eyes to stare into Brian's as he bit his lip in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the tears from trickling down his cheeks.

 

Brian reached up to gently brush the wetness from his face as he asked tenderly, "What sort of vision, Justin?"

 

Justin averted his face toward the wall as he mumbled, "I don't want to talk about it." The picture in his mind was still so vivid, so real, that even speaking about it aloud was too much to bear, even to Brian.

 

Brian's hands dropped to Justin's shoulders as he watched the blond withdrawing from him mentally. "Justin…" It was obvious how upset Justin still was by what he had seen. "You have to tell me."

 

"No!" Justin countered as he turned back to look Brian in the eyes now. "It's over." He knew how much of a lie that was, though; to him it was far from over. Perhaps it would never be over…

 

"Bullshit," Brian said curtly as he tightened his grasp on Justin's shoulders. "Whatever it was it scared the shit out of you." He looked into the beautiful, tear-stained face, noticing Justin trying hard to deny how right he was by the stubborn set of his jaw, but he knew better. "Tell me, damn it."

 

But Justin firmly shook his head, thinking somehow that by not discussing it, by not voicing it aloud, it would make the horrible picture fade away. But he knew that wasn't going to happen. This 'vision' had been the most vivid one yet; he could recall every little detail about where it had taken place, even though he did not recognize the setting. As far as he knew, he had never set foot in that amusement park before. On the other hand, he certainly recognized the only other person he saw in it, though. He would never forget that evil face for as long as he lived…

 


 

From her place outside Justin's closed bedroom door, Daphne pulled her hand from away the doorknob as she heard voices coming from inside. From her own room, she had heard Justin loudly cry out a short while ago, recognizing it immediately as the same sort of sound he had made before when he had experienced the other visions. She had hoped once the killer had been caught that it might end her friend's tortuous episodes, but she had instantly guessed what was happening the minute she had heard him scream.

 

Rushing out into the hallway, she skidded to a stop in front of Justin's room and was prepared to open the door and comfort her friend once more when she heard two voices speaking from inside – one, the anguished voice of her roommate and friend, and the other one? To her astonishment, she realized after a few seconds that Justin not only had a man in his room, but it was Kinney. Her mouth fell open in amazement. She knew Justin had been developing feelings for the arrogant detective and that he had agreed to go to a ballgame with Kinney and his son earlier in the day, but the man had actually wound up spending the night with him?

 

It wasn't that she was a prude – Justin was free to sleep with whomever he pleased – but she knew from her friend confiding in her that he had purposely never gotten that close to another man for fear of what he might see in the future for them. Apparently, though, that must have all changed somehow, because even through the thick, wooden door there could be no question who was speaking to her roommate. What did surprise her, though, was the tone of Kinney's voice; it was soothing, calming, and even gentle in nature, totally unlike what she would have expected of someone like him.

 

She pulled her hand back from the doorknob, hesitating over what she should do. Normally Justin would welcome her comforting embrace and her words of reassurance after a nightmare, but somehow she instinctively knew that there was someone else at the moment whom he preferred to assume that role. She could hear Justin speaking softly to Kinney through the door; his words were muffled but she could tell he was still upset over whatever he had just seen. Kinney, however, was doing his best to soothe her friend and even comfort him; at least she felt so by the sound of his voice. She bit her lip in indecision for a moment before she slowly turned and walked back to her room, still shocked over what she had heard but somehow knowing that Justin was where – and with whom – he wanted to be at the moment. She resolved to talk to him in the morning, however, to find out exactly what had happened earlier today, as well as what had transpired tonight for him to wind up with Kinney during the midst of another vision, and, of course, to find out exactly what vision Justin had experienced just now.

 


 

Brian hated seeing the look of anguish on Justin's face as he continued to lightly stroke his shoulders while he waited for Justin's breathing to calm somewhat. He knew his lover was torn between keeping whatever he had seen bottled up inside and wanting desperately to share his vision with him. Well, he wasn't about to let Justin go through this alone. "Justin, I'm not giving up until you tell me exactly what you saw," he told him firmly; his voice was quietly authoritative as it left no doubt that he meant exactly what he said. "Let me help you."

 

Justin lifted his tormented gaze to look into Brian's eyes. "Unless you can tell me that I just imagined what happened before, Brian, there's nothing you can do to help me!"

 

Brian frowned as he stilled his movement on Justin's shoulders and his blood ran cold. "What are you talking about, Justin? Are you talking about Carruthers?" Suddenly he had this horrible thought that Justin's latest vision somehow had to do with his son again and his heart skipped a beat at the thought; hadn't his son been through enough? "Did you have another vision about Gus?" he asked urgently. "Justin?" To his enormous relief, Justin shook his head no. "Then what is it? What do you mean, what happened before?" He waited impatiently for Justin to speak, but he remained silent. "Shit, Justin! Stop talking in riddles and just tell me! Did this vision have to do with that fucker Carruthers?" He lowered his voice as Justin's eyes widened at the harsher tone of his voice. "Please, Justin," he implored softer this time. "I want to help you. What was your vision about?"

 

Justin hugged his arms around his waist and let out a breath before he made a decision and finally said, "You're right; it was about Carruthers. I saw him, Brian. I saw him in another vision."

 

Brian swallowed hard as he tightened his hold on Justin's shoulders and turned his body toward him. "What did you see?"

 

"I was alone at some abandoned amusement park. I had no idea how I got there but I was just standing there somehow. I… I thought I was the only one there, but then I heard the music playing…"

 

"Music?" Brian prodded gently; he could tell that reliving this vision was excruciating for Justin. "What kind of music?"

 

"Calliope music – coming from the carrousel. All of a sudden it started playing right next to me and the carrousel starting turning by itself. And the horses – the horses started turning into something evil, grotesque." Justin's hands tightened around his waist as he took a deep, ragged breath and let it out before continuing. He gazed into Brian's eyes, trying hard somehow to latch onto Brian's strength as he spoke again. "The ride kept going faster and faster and it was making me dizzy; I could feel the wind on my face as it spun around and around. I thought I saw someone on the ride as it whirled around me, but it was going so fast I couldn't tell for sure." Justin's eyes took on a faraway look as he recalled what he had seen and felt. "I was almost knocked down by the force when all of a sudden the ride started slowing down and the music began to get softer. The wind disappeared and the horses started turning back to normal, so I thought the vision was over," Justin told Brian as he sucked in a breath and shuddered at what was coming next.

 

Brian took one look at Justin's ashen face and said softly, "But it wasn't, was it? What else did you see, Justin?"

 

Justin's breath caught on a sob as he said, "I saw him, Brian. Carruthers. He... He was on one of the horses and he was reaching his hand out to me. He… He grabbed me and laughed this horrible, horrible laugh. That's where it ended; that's when I woke up." Justin blinked as the tears rolled down his face anew and he stared back at Brian in despair. "He's not done yet, Brian."

 

"Justin…" Brian's heart was breaking at the sound of his lover's voice as he pulled him into his embrace and wrapped his arms tightly around the slender back in a vise-like grip of security and comfort. He could feel the slighter body trembling as he laid his head in the crook of Justin's neck and held onto him firmly. He could hear Justin's breath hitch against his chest and the wetness there on his skin as they stayed that way for several seconds, letting Justin draw whatever much-needed strength he needed from him.

 

Finally as he felt Justin's breathing returning back to normal, he pulled back slightly to look into his troubled eyes; the beautiful face was red and splotchy from his tears but his lover was still the most gorgeous man he had ever seen. "Justin," he began gently. "That was a terrible dream you had. But Carruthers is in police custody at the hospital; he isn't going anywhere. Horvath will see to that. As soon as he recovers," he said as a sour taste rose in his mouth at the thought, "he'll have his ass in jail so fast he won't be able to fucking sit down. What you saw was a horrible nightmare, Justin – not another vision."

 

"No, it wasn't," Justin insisted. "It was just like all the others. It wasn't just some terrible dream. It's going to happen, Brian. I know it is. And there's nothing I can do about it."

 

Brian stared into the anxious blue eyes. "Justin," he said firmly; his hands still at the side of Justin's waist; he could still feel him shaking slightly from the after-affects of his nightmare. "I know it must have been frightening for you to have a dream like that; I can only imagine how those visions made you feel before, knowing something awful was about to happen and not being able to do anything to prevent it. But this one simply isn't the same. The man won't even be able to take so much as a piss without someone watching him. It was just a bad dream this time," he assured him. His voice lowered to a softer pitch as he vowed, "I won't let anything happen to Gus again – or to you."

 

Justin still wasn't convinced, though, despite Brian's conviction. "But it was so real, Brian; I could see and feel everything so vividly."

 

"Some dreams are like that," Brian told him reasonably. "But that's all it was, Justin, believe me; just a fucking bad dream." He reached over with one hand to place it under Justin's chin as he slightly raised the skeptical-looking eyes to meet his. "Okay?" he asked softly. "Do you trust me?"

 

Justin swallowed, still reeling from the effects of the dream or vision or whatever it was, but Brian's gentle touch and his soft voice were like a balm to his soul and he wanted so badly to believe him. Perhaps he was right; he couldn't believe that after what the man had done to so many innocent children, not to mention to the son of one of their own, that the police would possibly provide the man with any more chances to cause more pain and suffering. He let out an accepting sigh as he nodded. "Yeah… Okay," he said as Brian nodded back at him.

 

As Brian pulled him back into his arms and held him tight, the dream slowly faded a little but the terrible, foreboding feeling he felt was still there.

 

Chapter Text

Next Morning – 8:30 a.m.

 

Justin’s eyes slowly fluttered open as sunlight streamed in through his small bedroom window.  He instantly recognized the familiar surroundings:  it was the same scuffed-up, wooden dresser, the same gaudy, flowery wallpaper the landlady had actually thought was attractive, the same full-length mirror on the back of his bedroom door, and the same old, rather tired-looking double bed in which he was currently reclining on his side, his back towards the closed door.

 

What was different, though, was the toned, muscular arm wrapped firmly around his torso and the warm body snuggled up against his backside.  He turned his head just enough to verify that it wasn’t all a dream, that he and Brian really had spent the night together, that his most desired wish had finally come true.  His pulse raced as he confirmed that he was indeed correct as he found himself staring into the deep hazel eyes of his lover who was already awake and smiling lazily back at him. 

 

“Good Morning, Kreskin,” Brian drawled as Justin turned over slowly to lie on his back and stare up at the sexy detective, his heart fluttering at the sight.  Brian’s hair was unkempt and sticking up in various places from sleep, but Justin thought he was still the most gorgeous man he had ever seen. And the two of them had spent the night together.  So it really DID happen…

 

Brian curved his mouth up into a lopsided smile as he leaned over him, propping the upper half of his body up with his elbow.  “No, you didn’t dream me up in one of your visions last night,” he whispered as if he were reading Justin’s mind.  “I really am here.”  He stared over into the soft blue eyes a moment before he leaned in to press his mouth to Justin’s, gently at first but then a little more insistently as the tip of his tongue came out to take a tentative swipe across the fuller lip.  Justin obediently parted his lips as Brian took quick advantage of his acquiescence to deepen the kiss and mold their upper bodies closer together, warm skin against warm skin.  Justin’s hands wound themselves around Brian’s back as he began a leisurely stroking of the hard, muscled flesh under his command while they continued to kiss, the experience of giving himself so completely to another man still quite new to him but so exhilarating. 

 

Finally, Brian broke the kiss to stare down into his lover’s face.  He nudged Justin’s nose with his before pulling back to whisper, “Doing better this morning?”   After Justin’s nightmare last night, he had pulled him into his arms for reassurance and comfort, realizing as he did so that he had never done anything like that with another man before; he had never felt the need or desire to.  But with Justin, it seemed that everything he had learned and done before went straight out the window and none of the previous rules applied.  There was something there – unfamiliar feelings – that he had never allowed himself to even entertain before.  He wasn’t sure at this point exactly what they were – gratitude?  Outright lust?  Insatiable need?  Or was it something stronger?  As he stared in his lover’s eyes, he realized he wasn’t quite ready yet to analyze them, but he did know one thing – he was hoping to enjoy spending a long time trying to decipher exactly what they were.

 

Justin gazed up into the concerned hazel orbs of his lover and the events from last night – all of them, the wonderful as well as the frightful – came rushing back to him.  His and Brian’s lovemaking had been astounding – exciting, adrenaline-charged, beyond belief, and so much more than he could have ever imagined – and to have the luxury of falling asleep in this sexy man’s arms afterward had been the culmination of one of the best nights of his life.  But that had all come crashing down later as the horrific vision with Carruthers had unexpectedly entered his mind.  Despite Brian’s insistence earlier that his dream had merely been a terrible nightmare as the result of all that had been happening lately, deep down he knew differently; he knew somehow that it had some basis in fact.  It wasn’t just a ‘bad dream.’  He wasn’t sure at this point what it meant, because none of it made any sense to him, but he knew it foretold something horrible that was going to happen.  It had felt just like all the other visions he had experienced in his life – the vividness, the feeling of actually being there, the dread that permeated every fiber of his being as he lived through it.  No, he knew by now that despite Brian’s soothing reassurance that it was simply a result of the terrible events they had been through together, it was much more than that.

 

Brian noticed a change come over Justin’s face at the mention of how he was, and he could have kicked himself.  Why did he have to mention that?  It was an innocuous question – right up there with the ubiquitous, inane have a nice day – but he could tell immediately by the troubled look on Justin’s face that he was recalling what he had seen.  He sighed softly in regret.  “Justin…Try not to think about it, okay?” 

 

Justin swallowed the painful lump in his throat as he tried to force his mind to veer away from what he had remembered.  Normally, as soon as he had a vision he would grab the sketchbook he always kept at the ready on his nightstand and immediately draw whatever he had seen lest he forget any of the details later. But he had never had a lover in his bed before at the time, and Brian had succeeded in convincing him to try and go back to sleep instead; with him there to reassure him, he had actually been able to do that.  That didn’t mean, though, that he had forgotten much of it or it was any less ominous; it was still quite clear in his mind in fact, even now. 

 

Justin let out a tense breath as he scooted up in the bed, his back against the headboard as he reached over to grab his sketchbook and a graphite pencil from the nightstand.  “I wish it was that easy,” he told Brian softly as he flipped the book open and began to preliminarily draw what he had seen – the cracked, weed-choked asphalt, the corrugated metal frames of the game and food booths, forlorn and neglected, the torn and tattered awnings, the weathered, white wooden roller coaster tracks looming high over the midway. 

 

Brian watched him in concern as he rapidly began to draw what was in his mind’s eye, partly afraid it would frighten Justin even further and, if he were truthful with himself, partly afraid that perhaps somehow, someway, Justin was right – maybe there was some awful bit of truth in what Justin had seen.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  Surely there was no way, though, that Carruthers could possibly be left to wreak more horror and pain on someone else?  No one, especially someone as experienced as Horvath, would be foolish or reckless enough to allow that to happen, would they?  And the thought of it happening to Justin…He reached over to grasp his lover’s wrist in an effort to stop him, thinking that if he did perhaps he could somehow help wipe it all away.  As a detective who always went by his instincts and his common sense, he knew it was an ineffective, futile gesture, but he felt the need to do it anyway.   “Justin…”

 

Justin shook his head as he gently detached his arm from Brian’s hold.  “No, Brian…I have to do this.  Just in case…”  His right hand continued to fly over the paper rapidly; it was as if he were a sponge and the details were being soaked into his head as he quickly stroked the pencil to the paper, the events of his dream beginning to unfold into sharper, horrible clarity as he continued to focus on what he had seen. 

 

Brian noticed the determination on Justin’s face and knew it was useless to try and convince him to stop.  He reached over and gently brushed some hair back from Justin’s eyes as the blond continued to draw and said softly, “Okay, Picasso.  You do what you need to do.”  He leaned over to kiss Justin’s cheek briefly as he whispered, “But I will never let anything happen to you.  You know that, right?” 

 

Justin paused for a moment to look over at the handsome detective to say softly, “I know you would try your damndest. But I’m sure those parents thought they were keeping their children safe, too.  Did you ever think anything would happen to Gus?”  He felt a little twinge of regret as he watched Brian’s face contort slightly in pain at the thought of what had happened to his son, but it was the truth.  No one ever thinks it will happen to them, and by now Brian must realize that his visions were not to be taken lightly. 

 

“No,” Brian answered honestly as Justin resumed his drawing.  Brian watched as the paper in Justin’s hand quickly coalesced into the scene that he had described to him earlier; despite his concern, he couldn’t help being fascinated by the detail Justin always put into his work.  It was as if you were standing in the middle of what he had drawn, and this sketch was no exception.  Every blade of grass, every groove in the neglected metal structures, and every strip of peeling paint was painstakingly clear.  He could almost hear the rusty closed for repair signs swinging in the wind that were hanging on broken chains barricading the abandoned rides from curious vandals, and he could almost sense the storm approaching in the dark, angry sky from the west.

 

He watched as Justin ripped the first sketch off and flung it onto the mattress as he began to draw anew.  He noticed the pale brow furrowing as he paused to inhale a deep breath as if he were steeling himself before he quickly began to draw the faint outline of something circular.  The vague form soon began to morph into the familiar shape of an amusement park carrousel with the round bulb lights recessed underneath in several rows and fancy, wooden scroll trim all along the border, both on top and on the bottom.  There were more lights in an arch shape repeating along the entire top of the structure and banks of more lights ringing the inner core of the ride, which was mirrored on all sides and reflected the prism of the lights shining around it.  A dark, wrought-iron fence surrounded most of the structure except for the exit and entrance areas, and there were horses of every kind and pose on the platform, some stationary, some mounted on poles that would allow them to move up and down as the ride operated.  Seats in the shape of a carriage or chariot were sprinkled in various places for those passengers who didn’t want to climb onto a horse for a ride. 

 

Brian continued to watch almost like an eyewitness to an impending train wreck as Justin continued to draw as if he were in a trance.  He watched Justin let out a ragged breath and bite his lower lip as he slowly began to draw a lone figure on one of the horses, his burly hand outstretched toward the outside perimeter of the ride.  The bulky figure slowly came into more focus under his lover’s expertise; he was wearing a dark overcoat and what appeared to be jeans and work boots.  The man’s face, which he instantly recognized, was contorted into an expression of hate and fury toward the slender man who was standing nearby, huddled against the wind blowing around him.  His back was to the viewer, but there could be no mistaking the light-colored hair and the slender frame. 

 

“Justin…”  Despite Brian’s earlier reassurance to his lover that it had all been just a bad dream, seeing Justin’s vision come to life was scary as hell for him and made it appear even more real.  God, please let that be all it was…Just a dream…

 

Justin abruptly stopped his frantic movements, holding the pencil in mid-air as he held the sketch up with his other hand and stared down at his vision come to life.  His face turned white as he stared into the hateful, unforgiving eyes of the man he had helped capture.  The face was that of a man on a mission, an unstoppable goal to wreak revenge on the man he felt had been instrumental in stopping him.  He felt a chill go down his spine and shuddered as he dropped the sketchpad and pencil down on the bed and covered his face with his hands, trying somehow to wipe the memory away but knowing just like with the others that it wasn’t going to happen. 

 

Brian reached and pulled Justin into his embrace, wrapping his arms around his waist as he held him firmly and rocked them back and forth on the bed.  He didn’t say anything; he just continued to hold him tightly for a few minutes until he heard Justin sigh and move to pull away from him slightly.

 

Justin peered up into the expressive hazel eyes of his lover and lowered his gaze in embarrassment.  “I’m sorry for being such a fucking baby,” he said softly.  He felt Brian firmly but gently cup his chin to force him to meet his gaze again. 

 

“Don’t apologize, Justin,” Brian replied firmly.  “I don’t treat what you see lightly – not anymore.  If I did, Gus wouldn’t be alive right now.”  Justin nodded gratefully as Brian dropped his hand to place both of them on Justin’s shoulders and continue to lightly hold him.

 

“What do you think it means, Brian?  I don’t understand.  It all felt so real…Just like all the other times.  But…I’ve never had one before that involved me.”  He shuddered again.  “It…It scared the shit out of me; it still does.”

 

“I know,” Brian whispered as he slowly stroked the soft skin under his touch.  He stared into Justin’s eyes for a moment longer until he decided, “I’ll call Carl and check up on Carruthers; would that make you feel better?” 

 

Justin nodded.  “Yeah.  But you know my visions normally don’t show something in the present; it’s normally in the future.  So even if he’s still confined, that doesn’t prove…”

 

“Hey now, don’t think that way,” Brian softly admonished him.  “I’m telling you, Justin, there’s no way Carl will let that fucker out of his sight; there’s way too much riding on this.  Do you realize what the fallout would be if we let him get away somehow?  There’s no way he’s going to let that happen.  But if it will make you feel better, I will call him right now, okay?” 

 

“Okay,” his lover responded gratefully.  It wasn’t a guarantee that nothing would happen in the future, but at least for now he could be assured that Carruthers was still safely in custody at the hospital. 

 

Brian nodded with a gentle smile as he leaned down to kiss Justin briefly on the lips.  “My cell’s out in the living room; why don’t you stay here and I’ll join you for a shower in a few minutes after I’m done?”  He curled his lips under as he reluctantly pulled away from Justin and rose from the bed. “Just to conserve water, you understand,” he murmured teasingly, trying to lighten Justin’s mood.  “I assume in this fleabag of an apartment you need to conserve all the hot water you can get.”  He couldn’t resist leaning down to give Justin one additional, short kiss on the lips before he turned to go.   “I’ll be back in just a few minutes,” he promised as his voice lowered to a silky tone.  He looked down at Justin’s morning woody just begging for attention and added seductively, “Don’t start anything without me.” 

 

Despite his worry, Justin couldn’t help blushing at the tone of Brian’s voice, leaving no doubt that hygiene was the last thing on his mind at the moment. He watched as Brian stopped long enough to gather his jeans up from the floor and slide them on before he opened the door, gave him a slight wink and disappeared out into the hallway in search of his phone.

 

Justin slid back down onto the mattress and stared up at the ceiling, his thoughts in a whirl.   On the one hand, he was still shaken up from his vision of last night, but on the other hand he was still basking in the fact that he and Brian had actually made love.  The night had started out so wonderfully, from that first hot, passionate kiss at the car to Brian being so gentle with him as he taught him all the pleasures that were his for the taking; how Brian had reassured him that it was all right to let himself go, to feel, to not be afraid to care about someone, perhaps even love someone.  Just as he was savoring their lovemaking, however, it had all come crashing down during his vision, because now he was not only afraid for himself, but also Brian.  What exactly did it mean?  Was it just a bad dream as Brian believed, a natural outgrowth of what he and Brian had endured for the past few weeks?  Was Brian right?  Was it just a bad dream and nothing more?

 

None of it made sense; he had never seen that amusement park before and he had never had a vision involving himself before, either.  Did that mean, then, that it was merely a nightmare, nothing more, nothing less?  He sighed in confusion, not sure what it all meant as he reached over and picked up the sketch that showed Carruthers on the horse carrousel.  Tell me what it all means, he pleaded; to whom or what, he wasn’t sure.  But there were no answers readily forthcoming as the room remained eerily quiet, only doubts and confusion continuing to surface.  He finally placed the sketch down and just lay there, forcing himself to think of pleasant things, to think of Brian

 

===================

Same Time

 

Daphne awoke to a voice softly speaking outside her door; she couldn’t make out what the person was saying, but she could tell it was a male and it wasn’t her roommate.  She frowned until the events of last night came back to her and in a flash she realized it had to be Kinney talking.  She didn’t hear any other voices, however, as she rose from her bed and grabbed a long, red terry-cloth robe lying at the end of the mattress near the footboard. 

 

Tying the sash around her waist, she quietly crept over on socked feet to the door and cracked it open, hearing Kinney’s voice more distinctly now as she opened it further.   She felt just a little guilty listening in on the detective’s conversation, but she stood locked in place, wanting to make sure that what she had heard last night wasn’t a case of the man trying to use Justin for his pleasure and then discarding him.  That would be her worst nightmare – that Kinney would take her friend’s feelings for him and use it for a one-night stand before running off and never looking back once he got what he wanted.  She still didn’t quite trust that his motives were pure, even though apparently Justin had cast aside any lingering doubts he had from what she had discovered last night.  She knew her friend well enough to know that it would take a lot for him to give in to his emotions and get involved that deeply with another man.  She wondered briefly what exactly Kinney had said or done to convince Justin to change his policy of never getting involved with someone that strongly before she heard Kinney speaking again and stood still near her slightly ajar door to listen.

 

She slowed down her breathing to a minimal level as she heard him say quietly, “Are you absolutely sure, Carl?  There is no possibility whatsoever.”  She wished fervently that she could hear the other end of the conversation, assuming by the name she had heard Kinney say that he was talking to his police sergeant.

 

 

From his place at his and Deb’s kitchen table, Carl rubbed his wrinkled hand through what little hair he had left; the events of the past few weeks had served to effectively help him lose whatever few strands of hair he had been holding onto.  “Yeah, yeah, I’m positive, Brian.  Why the hell would you ask that?” he said just a little defensively, almost insulted that his own detective would question his ability to keep such a high-profile suspect secure.

 

Brian hesitated; somehow he didn’t think it would be smart to admit to his superior just how close he and Justin had become, but on the other hand he felt it might be wise to at least be upfront about the reason why he was asking.  “It’s Justin,” he finally decided to divulge.  “He had another vision last night.”

 

Carl pondered that statement, wondering how on an early Sunday morning Kinney was privy to that information.  “How do you know?” he asked. 

 

“He told me, Carl,” Brian said cryptically, not particularly wanting to elaborate any more than he had to.

 

Carl decided to ignore the elephant in the room for now as he asked instead, “What sort of vision?  It was about Carruthers, I take it.”  He had long ago quit doubting Justin Taylor’s ability to foretell the future, not after all that had transpired in the past few weeks.  He still had no idea quite how he did it, but he had no doubt if it hadn’t been for Taylor’s intervention, another little boy would be dead and the killer would probably still be on the loose in search of yet another victim. 

 

“Yeah,” Brian responded curtly.  “Except this time it involved Justin; scared the shit out of him, too.”

 

“What exactly was it about?” 

 

“He drew a picture of it this morning; two, actually.  He was standing in the middle of some abandoned amusement park by himself when this carrousel started up and began to move around until it finally stopped and he noticed one person on it:  Carruthers.  When it came to a complete stop, he stuck his hand out and grabbed Justin by the arm.  That’s when he woke up; he was screaming and flailing his arms as if he were actually living through it.”

 

Carl raised his eyebrows; Kinney’s account certainly didn’t sound like he was getting it secondhand, which could only mean one thing in his opinion.  “Kinney…”

 

“Don’t even say it, Sarge,” Brian promptly growled, realizing what he was going to say; whenever Carl used his last name, an admonition typically followed.  “What – and who – I choose to spend my off-duty time with is none of anyone’s business – even you.” 

 

“I agree,” Carl replied.  “Normally.  But Taylor will no doubt have to testify about his visions as well as his part in Carruther’s capture; if word gets out that you and he are involved…”

 

“What about it?” Brian countered, quickly becoming perturbed.  “It’s no one’s fucking business who I fuck!”

 

“Listen to me, Kinney.  You know me well enough by now to know I usually don’t give a rat’s ass who you’re involved with in your personal life.  But you’re the main detective on this case!  A case that’s attracted a lot of attention as well as criticism over how long it took for us to break it!  It’s going to be hard enough trying to explain how we had to rely on a psychic to help lead us to the killer; wait until we have to deal with possible repercussions over the fact that nothing seemed to happen until the son of a cop wound up being the killer’s next victim!  Don’t you see how inappropriate this could look?” 

 

 

From her position at her bedroom door, Daphne continued to listen intently to Kinney’s side of his phone conversation.  She knew without a doubt now that he was, indeed, talking to Sargent Horvath; she was dismayed to hear what Justin’s latest vision had been about.  She had been hoping since the killer had been caught that it might help suppress some of the terrible visions her friend had been having lately about all the child victims.  Apparently, however, it seems that Justin had dreamed again about the killer – but this time the vision involved him rather than the children.  That was very alarming to her, and it appeared that she wasn’t alone in that fear.  It was also of concern to Kinney or he wouldn’t be asking his superior about Carruther’s security provisions.  What exactly were the detective’s feelings about Justin, though?  He seemed to be worried about him in one breath, but then in the next breath he was referring to him as someone ‘he fucked.’  Which one was it? 

 

 

“Inappropriate?” Brian groused, growing increasingly angrier by the second.  “I don’t give a damn what other people think, Carl!  You should realize that by now!”

 

“Yeah, I do,” Carl replied, knowing that Brian always did follow his own agenda and play by his own rules, regardless of what others thought.  “For once though, Brian, think of the bigger picture here.  Do you want something to jeopardize this case?” 

 

“Of course not – you know that!  My son was almost killed by that fucker!”  Brian couldn’t understand how their conversation had turned all of a sudden from Justin’s welfare and Carruthers’ security arrangements to his personal life. 

 

“Then you can understand my concern, Detective,” Carl responded sternly, hinting at the possible repercussions.  “I’m just saying, Brian – until this case is resolved you need to tread lightly.  The last thing we want is any whisper of impropriety…Do I make myself clear?”

 

Brian gritted his teeth; he despised having to walk on eggshells regarding his and Justin’s personal relationship, and he resented any insinuation that he and the rest of the police hadn’t worked hard on the case until Gus had wound up being kidnapped.  He also understood, though, that the press would latch onto any possible bit of what they considered salacious gossip or innuendo to make the police department look bad – whatever would sell newspapers or elicit higher web readership.  He hissed out a resigned breath before he muttered, “Yeah…Crystal.” 

 

Carl sighed.  “I’m not telling you who you can or cannot get involved with; that’s your own damn business.  But we can’t have any possible hint of police ineptness, inattention, or partiality regarding this case.  You can bet your ass that Carruthers’ attorneys will be looking for any possible opening to either help get their client off entirely or earn a reduced sentence.  We have to be very careful here.   Trust me, though; in the meantime, Carruthers will continue to be monitored 24/7.  He’s not going anywhere, so whatever ‘vision’ Taylor claims to have had last night can’t be anything more than just a vivid, bad dream of his overactive imagination.”

 

“You didn’t see his reaction,” Brian persisted.  “It certainly seemed like more than just a bad dream to me.”  He knew he had told Justin pretty much the same thing – that there was no possible way Carruthers could set so much as a foot outside his hospital room without a cop knowing about it – but the way his lover had described it and the look of alarm on his face still made him concerned.  Justin had been uncannily accurate so far in his previous visions about what had occurred regarding the child victims and the location of Carruthers’ hideout.  Was it possible, though, that this time it was only a dream and nothing more? 

 

“Brian?  Still there?”  He blinked, realizing he had been lost in thought. 

 

“Yeah, yeah, I’m still here.  Okay…I believe you.  I just wanted to make sure so I could reassure him.”  And me, he couldn’t help thinking. 

 

Carl nodded as he noticed Debbie walking in from the outside with a bag of groceries. “Listen, I have to go; the results of the investigation into your weapon discharge should be in tomorrow.  We should know then whether you can go back onto active duty.”

 

“About fucking time,” Brian muttered.  “If I’m given one more cold case file to examine, I think I’m going to puke.  You know I hate paperwork.” 

 

Carl chuckled as he got up to prop his cellphone in the crook of his neck and take Debbie’s grocery bag from her to place it down on the kitchen counter.  “You don’t have to tell ME, and it’s a waste of your expertise.  Let’s meet first thing tomorrow, then.  I’m hoping to be able to meet with Carruthers tomorrow morning, too, at the hospital; you can come with me if you’re reinstated.”

 

“I thought you just told me to tread carefully with this case.  You know I want to question the bastard just as much as you do, but do you think that’s a good idea?”

 

Carl gave Debbie a kiss on the cheek as she began to remove the groceries from the paper bag and put them away.  “Depends on whether you can keep that infamous temper of yours in check; if you can’t, then, no, you have no business coming with me.  But if you can, I’d like the lead detective with me when he’s questioned to make sure we cover all our bases.” 

 

Brian pondered that dilemma; he would like nothing better than to throttle the fucker as soon as he laid eyes on him again, but the detective in him knew that if he was to do his job and ensure that Carruthers would be brought to justice, they would have to go by the book and he would have to show restraint.  And as much as he absolutely abhorred the idea of having to hide any relationship he had with someone, he also realized the reason why, for now at least, that he would have to keep his and Justin’s relationship under wraps.  That didn’t mean he wouldn’t keep seeing him, though; the thought of not doing that was out of the question from his standpoint.  “I understand,” he finally said.  “I want to come with you.”

 

Carl nodded.  “Okay, then, I’ll take that as your promise that you will accompany me as a detective first and not as the father of one of the victims.  Nine o’clock in my office?”

 

“Yeah,” Brian replied.  “I’ll see you then.”  He flipped his phone shut and turned to scoot his chair back from the kitchen table.  As he rose to his feet and prepared to go join Justin in the shower, he watched as the nearby bedroom door opened and Daphne walked out wearing a red, terry-cloth robe and a look of skepticism on her face. 

 

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Kreskin’s bodyguard,” Brian commented dryly as Daphne came closer.  “I have a feeling that your timing isn’t just a coincidence; how long have you been eavesdropping in on my conversation?”

 

Daphne crossed her hands over her chest and stood there, her feet slightly apart.  “Long enough,” she disclosed.  “You slept with him last night, didn’t you?  Did you fuck him before or after he had his nightmare?”

 

Brian glared angrily at this slip of a girl; he had to admire her for her unwavering support of her friend, but he resented her insinuation greatly.  “You think I gave Justin a pity fuck because of a bad dream?  Is that what you think?” 

 

Daphne pursed her lips together.  “Frankly, I don’t know what to think about you, Detective Kinney.  You didn’t believe Justin’s story at all initially and tried every way you could to discredit him and even blame him for what had happened.  Then he wound up saving your son’s life despite what you thought about him.  Last thing I knew you were only taking Justin and your son to a ballgame.”  She snorted softly.  “Looks like you wound up participating in a different type of ‘ballgame.’  The question is, though, was it out of genuine feelings for Justin or more like some warped sense of gratitude?” 

 

“Daphne!  That’s enough!” 

 

Daphne whirled around in surprise to observe the topic of their discussion walking out of his bedroom clad in a navy-blue, short-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of loose-fitting, light-gray briefs.  Justin’s eyes locked on Brian’s for a moment as the two shared an intense look before he turned his attention back to his friend.  “Brian asked if he could stay and I told him yes,” he told Daphne quietly.   “I wanted him to stay.  And I resent you thinking I don’t have a mind of my own and that I’m just some kind of puppet to do with as Brian pleases.”

 

Daphne’s eyes widened in alarm.  “I didn’t mean that at all, Justin!  I’m your best friend! I just don’t want you to get hurt, that’s all.  I mean, all this time you’ve never…Uh…”

 

“I know, you don’t have to spell it out,” Justin responded curtly.  “And Brian knows, too, by the way.”

 

“He does?”  Justin had always sworn her to secrecy, saying he felt too embarrassed to admit his total lack of sexual experience to anyone else.  The fact that he had disclosed that to Kinney, though, must mean that he trusted him.  The question was, however, was the trust justified? 

 

“Yeah,” Justin told her as he walked closer toward Brian, who silently stood there listening to their exchange.  “Daphne, if you ARE my friend, you need to trust that I know what I’m doing.  I believe Brian really does care about me, and I care about him.”  He glanced away from Brian in embarrassment for fear of revealing too much as he added softly, “I don’t know where this will lead yet, but that’s okay.  Brian didn’t promise me anything, and this is all new to me.  But I want to see where it goes, and I know he was with me last night because he wanted to be, not because he felt some jaded sense of gratitude to pay me back.  Pity?  Daphne, how could say such a thing?  Did I come across as that desperate to get laid?”

 

Daphne’s eyes began to sting with tears of regret.  “No, no, of course not!” she backpedaled as she walked over and grasped his upper arms to face him.  “Never!  I just worry about you, Justin!  I don’t want you to get hurt.”  She gazed up into his eyes. “I love you like a brother.  Please believe me.”  She turned briefly to look over at Brian nearby; at least he didn’t appear smug or arrogant at the moment, merely curious.  “If…If you believe his motives are sincere, then I do, too.  Okay?” 

 

Brian bit his tongue; he was so tempted to call Daphne out and make some snarky comment about how thrilled he was to finally have her in his fan club now, but somehow he knew that wasn’t the best approach.  He actually respected this girl for standing up for Justin, and truthfully he supposed he really couldn’t blame her for her distrust of him still.  He hadn’t actually been very supportive of Justin’s unique gift and had given both of them a hard time.  Now he had taken Justin’s virginity, which must seem like as big a deal to her as it had been to Justin.  So instead of a snappy, sarcastic comeback, he decided to take a different tact.

 

“For what it’s worth, Daphne, Justin’s right; I do care about him,” he told her softly.  “A lot.”  His eyes turned to meet Justin’s expressive blue ones as they shared a small smile between them, the delight evident in Justin’s face that he had been right about his feelings for him.  “And I want to get to know him a lot better – if that’s what he wants, too.”  The look on Justin’s face told him what he needed to know without him saying a word as Justin nodded his agreement.

 

Daphne couldn’t help noticing the look passing between them – if she didn’t know better she would say that Kinney was as enamored of Justin as Justin was of him.  Was it possible that his motives really WERE sincere?  For her friend’s sake, she certainly hoped so.  For now, though, she could still be vigilant around her friend, but she would have to trust that he knew what he was doing.  “I’m glad to hear that,” she told Brian as she turned her attention back to her roommate and dropped her hands to remain standing next to him.  “I’m sorry if I spoke out of turn.  I just want you to be happy – and safe.”  She paused for a moment before she added, “I couldn’t help overhearing Brian telling Horvath that you had another vision – involving you and Carruthers?”

 

Justin turned in surprise to look at Brian.  “You told Horvath about that, too?  Why?”

 

Damn it, Brian thought, not really wanting Justin to know he had told Carl about his vision; he was afraid that admission would simply lend more credence to Justin’s theory that it had been an omen of things to come, not simply a bad dream.  But he couldn’t lie to him, either, especially after what he had just said to Daphne, so he chose something in between.  “I called him to mainly check on Carruthers’ security arrangements,” he told Daphne.  “I wanted to be able to reassure Justin that there was no way he could ever get out of our sight and I was right.  Carl said the man was being watched 24/7.  There’s no possible way even if his nightmare was a vision of things to come that it could ever actually come true.  I just wanted him to not worry about it, that’s all,” he added softly as he looked into Justin’s eyes.

 

Justin nodded as he looked at Brian and smiled a little.  “I’m glad to hear that.”

 

Brian nodded back at him as Daphne watched their interaction in rapt attention; she was starting to believe she really had misjudged Kinney; around Justin he was almost like a different person.  His tone of voice was soft, almost tender without being coddling.  And the looks he was giving Justin didn’t appear to simply be a man who lusted after her friend; he really seemed to care about him.  God, I hope so, she thought silently. 

 

“I’m going to go make some coffee,” Daphne told the two men, suddenly feeling like a third wheel.  “Again Justin, I’m sorry.  You know I always have your back and I’m only concerned because I care about you.”

 

Justin nodded as he bestowed a soft smile on her.  “I know,” he assured her.  “And I’m not mad.  But you have to trust that I know what I’m doing, okay?” 

 

She nodded as she reached up and gave her friend a quick peck on the cheek and a brief hug.  “I do,” she whispered.  “Just be careful.”

 

“Daphne…”

 

“Sorry…Can’t help it,” she said as she looked over at Brian, silently beseeching him to take good care of her precious, tender-hearted friend.  He nodded slightly as if he understood before she turned and walked into the kitchen, finally leaving the two men relatively alone.

 

Brian turned to grasp Justin’s upper arms as he said softly, “I meant what I said earlier, Justin.”  There was no hint of arrogance or haughtiness in his voice as he added, “If that’s what you want, too.” 

 

Justin was astounded by what sounded like uncertainty in Brian’s voice.  This sexy, handsome man could have anyone he wanted, male or female, yet around him – someone so inexperienced and unsure of what he was doing – it almost sounded like he was afraid of rejection.  Was that possible?  The thought filled him with both incredulity as well as amazement as he nodded and whispered back, “Yes, I do.”

 

Brian’s face softened as he leaned in to touch Justin’s lips with a tentative kiss that quickly spiraled into something much more passionate.  From her position in the kitchen, Daphne couldn’t help watching through the open pass-through between the two rooms as her friend and Kinney kissed deeply, both of their hands winding around each other as if they were trying to mold into one body.  It was hot, it was passion-filled, it was mind-blowing to see the heat almost radiating off the two men as their hands roamed all over each other’s backs and they continued to kiss, both totally oblivious to her nearby presence. 

 

Finally, she watched as Brian reluctantly pulled back from their kiss and whispered something in Justin’s ear; she couldn’t hear what he said, but from the flush that suddenly appeared on Justin’s face she could guess what it involved.  She watched as the two men walked, hands intertwined, back toward the lone bathroom and, with one last, quick kiss, disappeared through the door which was promptly closed behind them.  Blushing at the realization of what was going on, she turned to concentrate on making her coffee.

 

 

As they stood in the combination bathtub/shower, Justin couldn’t help his reaction as Brian carefully washed every inch of his body, slowly sliding the bar of soap with one hand over to the curve of his wet shoulders and then down to his chest, swirling the suds languorously around one puckered nipple and then over to the other as he took his free hand and slowly trailed it down the side of Justin’s inner arm.  He had no idea that the tender flesh of his wrist could be so erotic until Brian’s fingers lingered there and gently scraped along his skin, causing his heart to speed up dramatically and a soft gasp to escape between his lips.

 

Justin had an inkling that Brian knew exactly what he was doing to him, too, but he was afraid to lift his gaze to look him in the eye to confirm it for fear he would consider what an inexperienced little twink he was, unable to control his passion or his body’s reaction to a well-versed lover.  Well, actually, that was the truth – he was still relatively inexperienced when it came to sex and even love, too afraid before to even consider the thought.  As he finally found the courage to raise his eyes to look into Brian’s, though, he wondered exactly what it was that he saw reflected there.  He was relieved that it didn’t look like ridicule or disapproval, or even disappointment that he wasn’t as practiced in the art of love or fucking as Brian’s others lovers must have been.  What did he see there?  Was it merely the initial mystique over being with someone new, especially someone who was literally virgin territory?  Or was there something else there? 

 

He bit his lip as he felt his cock hardening painfully and Brian hadn’t even touched him there yet.  He had no doubt that he would, though; his lover was continuing to sensually glide the soap down his ribcage toward his belly, lower and lower, edging ever closer.  His eyes widened as Brian unexpectedly began to lower his body to bend down in front of him as the bar of soap promptly fell to the ground and Brian reached around to grasp each of his ass cheeks in his long-fingered hands…He reached over and fisted Brian’s hair as his head fell back against the slick shower wall over the anticipation of what was to come and the feelings coursing through him merely over Brian’s initial touch.  A few seconds later, his pulse shot up and his head thrust forward in surprise as Brian dug his fingers into the fleshy skin of his ass and a pair of hot, wet lips latched themselves onto his throbbing cock and he began to nuzzle the tip.

 

A loud moan erupted from his mouth at the sensation; Brian had spent most of last night teaching him so many pleasurable ways to make love – licking him, sucking his nipples, giving him small bites on his neck and his collar bone, kissing him on the mouth and everywhere else to within an inch of his life, using his long-fingered hands to stroke him everywhere, and expertly taking him to exhilarating heights previously unknown as he thrust expertly in and out of him over and over again while he contorted his body into almost impossible configurations, even tongue-fucking him as he finally demonstrated what rimming was.  But this – this was something new that Brian hadn’t done yet, something that Justin had fantasized about for a long time, and the feeling of those lips suctioned tightly against his cock as Brian’s tongue swirled around the underside of his dick was making his legs wobbly and boneless over the incredible sensation.  He tightened his grasp in Brian’s hair with one hand while his other one latched onto the curve of his muscular shoulder for support as his lover continued to swallow more and more of his cock while he continued to knead his ass possessively. 

 

Just the thought that this gorgeous, dominant man was sucking him off instead of the other way around filled Justin with a mixture of both pride as well as fear.  Pride that such an incredible god of a man would want to do that, as well as fear that when he tried to return the favor, he would somehow fall short of his expectations.  But at the moment he was too caught up in how Brian was making his body feel to dwell too long on what might happen later as he bucked at the feeling of two slick fingers suddenly thrusting inside of him while Brian began to slide his lips up and down on his cock.  As soon as Brian hit his prostate a few seconds later, he loudly cried out and soon exploded in reaction as his knees sagged and his body fell backward against the ceramic tile of the bathroom wall. 

 

If not for Brian’s hands holding tightly onto his ass, he would have fallen to the hard floor of the bathtub in a spineless heap.  As his lover swallowed his seed and slowly rose back to his feet, he leaned in to kiss him hungrily, the taste of himself on Brian’s lips odd but not unpleasant.  He felt like he had learned a lifetime of experience in one night with this amazing man as they kissed deeply, Brian’s hands winding themselves around his soapy waist as the water slowly poured down upon both of them and his own hands slid around Brian’s back to marvel at the strength there. 

 

Finally, they broke apart to stare into each other’s eyes.  Brian reached up to gently push some wet hair away from Justin’s eyes as he whispered admiringly, “You’re incredible,” a small smile on his lips as Justin flushed at the compliment.  “Everything about you…”  He couldn’t take his gaze away from the wide, expressive eyes that reminded him of an early spring sky.  He was so used to being with jaded, horny men who were only interested in being able to tell others that they had been with this god of a man who knew every way imaginable to fuck them and take them to indescribable heights of pleasure; to be with someone, though, who was feeling and experiencing everything for the first time, and to also have feelings that transcended merely the physical aspect of the act, amazed as well as astounded him and made him feel things that he had never felt before.  It frightened him a little if he were honest with himself, but the wondrous emotions it engendered more than made up for it as Justin smiled back at him in delighted response.

 

Justin’s face couldn’t mask the emotions pouring over him at Brian’s flattering words.  How had he managed to capture the heart of this bigger-than-life man?  He would have never thought it possible, but here he was, holding him in his arms and murmuring sweet, sexy words to him.  He shyly replied, “I want to give you what you just gave me.” 

 

Brian’s pulse sped up at the thought of those full, pouty lips worshipping his cock.  But was Justin ready for that yet?  It was one thing to take it up the ass – and what an incredibly tight ass it was – or to kiss each other madly, both of which Justin had done remarkably well, especially for a first time.  But was he ready to blow him?  He certainly was more than willing to participate if Justin wanted it.  “Are you sure?” he asked softly, amazed that he was actually asking a lover about his feelings; he would have never done that before Justin entered his life, but somehow it was important now.  What exactly did that mean?  He wasn’t sure, but he knew somehow that it separated this man from all the others he had had.

 

Justin swallowed a little nervously over what he was about to do but he nodded in confirmation.  Brian had the most beautiful cock and all he could think about was wrapping his lips around it and providing him with the same sort of pleasure that he had just given him.  He wasn’t sure his technique would be anywhere near Brian’s, but if he was given a grade for effort and sincerity, it would certainly stand up next to the best of them. 

 

Brian’s pulse sped up in anticipation as he leaned over to give Justin one more soft kiss on his lips before he curved his hand around his cheek in assurance.  Justin’s tongue flicked out to moisten his lips as Brian’s eyes darkened at the thought of what that luscious, full mouth was about to embark upon.  He watched as Justin slowly slid down toward the floor, his eyes never leaving Brian’s until his face was staring straight into the object of his desire and he had to take an appreciative look.  Brian’s cock was thick and hard, glistening with beads from the shower and standing at perfect attention just waiting for his touch.  He licked his lips again to moisten them, the only sounds heard the rush of the water and his soft breaths of nervous expectation as he tentatively reached out with his right hand to curl it around the silky flesh, marveling at the throbbing pulse and the warmth under his touch.  He heard an approving sigh of encouragement from above him as, emboldened, he drew his lips closer and closer to his goal.  He didn’t know why or even how the idea occurred to him, but just before his mouth would have made contact with Brian’s cock, he parted his lips slightly and blew out a soft, experimental wisp onto the warm skin.  The effect was immediate as Brian let out a loud groan in response as Justin’s eyes widened in disbelief over the power he had over this magnificent man.

 

“Justin,” Brian growled out impatiently, wanting so much to feel those full lips on his cock.  The eagerly-awaited touch of his lover’s hand curling around his dick and the unexpected puff of breath had caused his body to go into overdrive and Justin had barely gotten started.  How was this possible?  He was a whisper away from practically begging Justin to get on with it, but he knew his young lover wasn’t deliberately teasing him; he was still learning how to pleasure him.  But oh, what a fast learner he was proving to be!  Fuck.   “Justin,” he breathed out again.  “Touch me,” he implored, astounded that he, Brian Kinney, was actually asking someone to suck him off, but it merely proved to him how deep his feelings were running for this man. 

 

Justin lifted his eyes to stare upward past the taut belly and the flat, toned chest until he met Brian’s dark, lust-filled gaze.  He blushed at the hungry look on Brian’s face before he lowered his eyes and dove in, opening his mouth into an “O” shape and reaching out to softly come into contact with the spongy, leaking tip.  It was musky and salty but not unpleasant, masculine and distinctly Brian.  He poked his tongue out to take a small lick of the underside as again, he heard Brian moan softly above him and felt his lover’s hand began to twist around several strands of his hair on top of his head.  He could feel the tense muscle under his other hand that was resting around the curve of Brian’s sinewy thigh and knew his lover was trying feverishly to control his urge to push into his mouth, just like he had done earlier when Brian had been sucking him off and he couldn’t restrain his urge to thrust deeper into Brian’s mouth.  Could he do this?  Could he satisfy Brian anywhere near the level that he had satisfied him?  All he knew was that he wanted to try.

 

Brian’s head fell back onto the ceramic wall in ecstasy as Justin took him deeper into his mouth and did something with his tongue that made him crazy with desire – it was some sort of combination swirling/licking motion on the bottom of his cock that seemed anatomically impossible to do, but somehow Justin was succeeding in doing it anyway.  He yelped slightly then as his lover unexpectedly bit down slightly on his shaft playfully before he instinctively knew to relax his throat muscles and took him in even deeper, his lips sliding up and down now on the slick flesh until amazingly he managed to deep throat him.  My God, Brian couldn’t help thinking as he fisted Justin’s hair frantically in an effort to keep from thrusting violently into that hot, wet mouth.   How did he learn to DO this?  And he’s INEXPERIENCED?  If Justin could make him feel this way now, he couldn’t imagine how aroused he would be once his lover obtained more experience.  He seemed to have been born with an innate talent for providing him pleasure, because Brian was dangerously close to shooting down his throat any second.  Would Justin be able to handle what he had wrought? 

 

He soon would found out as Justin reached over to fondle his heavy balls and he vocally cried out Justin’s name like some teenage fag with his first crush and promptly climaxed into Justin’s talented mouth.

 

Justin jerked slightly at the passionate response to his ministrations as he tightened his hand’s hold on Brian’s thigh and braced himself with his other hand around his lover’s lean waist as Brian’s come shot into his mouth and down his throat.  He wasn’t sure if he could handle what he had caused, but he forced down his gag reflex and succeeded in eventually swallowing all of the copious fluid, savoring the unique taste that was all Brian until it was completely gone.

 

He could hear Brian’s pants of after-effect above him and feel his body heaving from their exertion as he slowly used his lover’s body to pull himself up to a standing position, the water quickly cooling from their extended time in the shower.  He couldn’t help the happy smile that slowly appeared on his face as he stared into the sated, surprised face of his glorious lover. 

 

Brian inhaled a deep breath before he managed to say, “That…That was fucking hot.  You’re fucking hot.  You’ve never done that before?”  He placed his hands around Justin’s shoulders and linked them together at the back of the blond’s neck as he stared into his eyes.

 

Justin blushed at the compliments.  “No…It was all right, though?”  He still was unsure of his skill as a lover, but from the satisfied look on Brian’s face he suspected he had managed to pull off his first blow job quite nicely. 

 

Brian shook his head in amazement as he pulled Justin closer to give him a deep kiss in reply.  As he pulled back to look at him, he whispered, “It was more than all right.  It was incredible.”  He smiled down at Justin’s look of delight and relief as he added, “I think we’ve run out of hot water.  Time to get out of this tub.” 

 

Brian reached over and turned the knob to turn off the cold stream of water as Justin nodded and gingerly stepped over the lip of the bathtub and onto the rubberized, extra-large bath mat nearby.  He reached over to grab a somewhat tattered, navy-blue bath towel from the stainless steel rack as Brian joined him.  He was about to retrieve a second one and give it to Brian before his lover gently pulled the first towel from his grasp and wordlessly began to slowly dry every inch of his slightly-shivering, quickly-cooling body, stopping to kiss various parts as he dried them while Justin squirmed at the attention.  His sexy lover started by kissing the side of his neck, then his shoulders, then his nipples and his belly button before slowly working his way down lower and lower.  If Brian didn’t stop right now, they were going to wind up fucking again, which wasn’t exactly a bad thing.  But he knew eventually Daphne would need to use the sole bathroom in their apartment, so he decided reluctantly that he had to stop this before it got any further.

 

“Brian…” he reached out to twist some of Brian’s hair in his hand as he gently tugged at the top of his head to get his attention.  Thankfully, Brian rose to his feet and gave him a moment’s reprieve as he advised, “Daphne is going to need to get in here.”

 

“I’m not into those kinds of threesomes, Picasso,” Brian told him teasingly as Justin blushed at the thought.  He smirked at Justin’s response as he told him grudgingly, “Okay.  We can continue this later.”  He reached over and briskly rubbed Justin’s hair, causing it to stick out all over the place as a result.  He grinned as Justin rolled his eyes at him before he quickly rubbed the same, now slightly-damp towel over his own body to dry himself off.  Hanging it back up somewhat haphazardly on the towel rack, he reached down to retrieve his pants as he handed Justin's briefs to him.  “Better put these on, then, before we leave. Wouldn’t want your little roomie to get any ideas.” 

 

Justin grinned at him as the two men donned their clothing and the rest of what they had strewn on the floor earlier and moved to leave the now steamy bathroom.  As they exited together, Daphne looked up from her place at the kitchen table.  One look at her friend’s blush and she knew she had been right – they weren’t in there together merely to ‘get clean.’  In fact, she suspected what they had been doing was dirty – very, very dirty – and from the look on her friend’s face, he had thoroughly enjoyed himself.  She couldn’t help smiling back at him knowingly as Brian smirked at her.

 

“Bathroom’s all yours, Ms. Chanders,” he told her as they came closer.  “But you might want to hold off taking a shower for a while.  Seems we used up all the hot water somehow.”

 

“I wonder how that happened?” Daphne mused as Brian merely arched his eyebrows at her and, grasping Justin gently by the neck, he steered him down the hallway toward his bedroom.  Daphne sighed as they disappeared again, hoping that her friend knew what he was getting into.  She didn’t trust Brian a hundred percent, but Justin obviously had no doubts about his sincerity.  I hope you’re right, Justin, she thought silently as she took one last sip from her coffee mug and scooted back from the chair to place it in the sink. 

 

 

Dressed again, Brian reached over to Justin’s beat-up dresser and handed a comb to him; he noticed the comb was missing some teeth.  “Do you have anything in this apartment that isn’t either scuffed up, beat up or missing parts?” he teased the blond.

 

Justin ran the comb through his hair to place it back into some semblance of order as he said a little stiffly, “Not everyone makes the big bucks like a hotshot detective I know,” he said softly.  “Money isn’t always the most important thing.”  He reached over and stood up on his tiptoes to comb Brian’s hair, too, as he added, “They don’t call them starving artists for nothing.”

 

Brian grinned as Justin finished his task and placed the partially toothless comb back down on the dresser.  “Well, you’re not fat by any means, Mr. Taylor, but you don’t look like you’re starving exactly,” he pointed out. 

 

“Are you calling me plump?” Justin retorted as he turned around to try and look at his ass, wondering if that was the body part Brian was referring to. 

 

Brian turned Justin in his arms and curled his lips under to say, “Only where you need to be.”  He reached down to squeeze Justin’s ass cheeks through the denim fabric as Justin curved his mouth up into an amused smile.  “I like your ass just the way it is.  And I like the way another body part ‘plumps up’ on command, right when it needs to.” 

 

“Brian,” Justin replied in embarrassment as Brian grinned back at him impishly. 

 

A sudden thought occurred to the detective, one that would be mutually beneficial.  He would get more of an opportunity to be with Justin, and Justin would hopefully have his mind diverted from that awful vision/nightmare he had experienced last night.  “Why don’t we take a drive?” he suggested unexpectedly.

 

Justin frowned.  “A drive?  Where?”

 

“Anywhere but the Pitts,” Brian answered.  “Let’s just get in the car and go wherever it takes us.  It’s actually sunny today for a change and it’s supposed to get near 60.  I don’t have to be back at work until tomorrow morning, so let’s take advantage of it.”  He stared into Justin’s eyes, so clear and blue like a tropical ocean and so mesmerizing as he realized he wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye just yet. “What do you say?” 

 

Justin beamed back a radiant smile of delight.  “You want to spend the day with me?” 

 

Brian smiled down at him and nodded.  Who wouldn’t want to spend the day with such a beautiful man by his side?  “Yeah,” he found himself admitting.  “I might even be talked into stopping somewhere outside the city limits for breakfast; I know a hell of a good restaurant that looks like an old 50’s diner and serves great pancakes.  How does that sound?” 

 

Justin nodded eagerly.  “It sounds great; especially the food part,” he teased back as Brian laughed.  It was so wonderful to see Justin smile; that made it all worthwhile – that and the opportunity to get to know him better. 

 

He leaned down to give Justin a brief kiss before he said, “Let’s get to it, then.”  He turned to pick up his car keys on the dresser and reached over to grab his jacket. 

 

A few minutes later and leaving one incredulous roommate at the apartment, Brian smiled over at Justin in the passenger seat as he slowly pulled his car out into traffic, headed toward the Moonlight Diner on the outskirts of town. 

 

 

Same Time – Alleghany Memorial Hospital

 

“Look, I’m Carruthers’ attorney,” Alan Cypress stated authoritatively as the distinguished-looking, tall, middle-aged man reached inside his expensive, tailored jacket’s breast pocket and retrieved a white and gold leaf business card that stated Cypress and Sydney, LPA on it.  “By law you have to let me see my client.  Now you really don’t want me to get a judge involved to enforce that law, do you?”  He handed it to one of the two policeman standing guard right outside the closed door of Carruthers’ room.  The man’s condition has improved significantly, so much so that he had been moved to a private room on the third floor a few hours earlier. 

 

One of the cops on security duty, a dark-haired man in his 30’s by the name of Lieutenant Sanders, scowled as he looked at the card.  He could care less whether Carruthers’ legal rights were enforced, but he also knew that they couldn’t risk doing anything that would cause their case against the alleged child killer to be jeopardized.  He sighed heavily in resignation as he grunted, “Go on,” and turned the doorknob open to allow the assertive man to enter.

 

As Cypress entered his client’s room, he noticed the curtains were drawn in the dimly-lit space; only the fluorescent light overhead the bed was turned on.  There was the constant beep and hum of monitoring machinery surrounding the figure lying partly propped up on the bed.  He recognized the burly figure lying there as the man he had come to know through his father, Thomas Carruthers, Sr.  The elder, deceased police sergeant had been on the force for over 30 years before he reluctantly retired at the urging of his wife, who wanted to travel and enjoy life away from the stresses of police work.  Unfortunately, a month after he had been recognized with an elaborate retirement party, the elder Carruthers had suffered a massive heart attack and died almost instantly, slumped over in his recliner as he watched his beloved Steelers during a football game.

 

Cypress had known the son for several years now through his association with his father, so he wasn’t totally surprised when the man had called him from his hospital bed, raspy and weak, demanding that he come to see him about 'that damn case that had been in the news.'  When he had pressed him about what he meant, his heart had almost stopped as Carruthers had simply murmured, "All those kids, all those kids."  He was rendered speechless; was Carruthers saying he was involved with all those child murders?  He had hesitated briefly on the phone then, not sure if he wanted to even be associated with the man, before he reluctantly agreed to meet with him.  Cypress knew convicted child killers were lower than discarded bubble gum on a shoe, but he also relished his moments of being in the spotlight; he couldn’t think of a better case in which to obtain notoriety.  Besides, he always followed the credo of innocent until proven guilty, and despite Carruthers’ somewhat unpredictable, moody behavior he had exhibited since his own son had died, he found it unfathomable that the man would set out to kill innocent children, especially after what he himself had gone through. 

 

“Tom?” Cypress called out softly as he approached the bed; Carruthers’ head was turned away from him, so he couldn’t tell if the man was awake or asleep.  He was about to reach out and gently nudge the man awake when he noticed his client slowly turning his head on the pillow to face him.  He observed the man’s hollow expression on his face as the beady-looking, dark gray eyes tried to focus on him. 

 

Carruthers managed a smile as he struggled to speak, his voice dry and cracking from the ventilator tube that he been stuck in his throat previously.  He would have motioned with his hand for some water, but both were currently tied down at the moment, a fact that made his blood boil and made him feel like some caged animal. 

 

Thankfully the attorney was able to figure out what he wanted as he reached over to grab a Styrofoam cup and filled it with water from a standard-issue, beige-colored plastic pitcher.  Holding the straw inside the cup aloft so the other man could drink, he waited until Carruthers had taken a couple of sips before his client nodded briefly and he placed the cup back down on the portable serving table.  “You wanted to see me?” Cypress asked. 

 

Carruthers’ eyes flashed at him in irritation as he growled, his voice barely a whisper, “I…I called you, didn’t I?”

 

Cypress sighed softly.  “Yes, you did.  You said you needed my help. I assume you’re wanting me to represent you?  I’ve been keeping up with all the news stories, and if this involves what I think it does, you have some serious charges stacked up against you, Tom.”

 

He watched as the man’s eyes seemed to glass over and go out of focus for a few seconds as Carruthers stared out into air and said plaintively, “I did it for him. For my Tommy.” 

 

The attorney frowned as he leaned forward to hear him better.  “You did what, Tom?”

 

“He…He was lonely,” Carruthers continued, still struggling to speak clearly; his throat was raw from his medical treatment.  “He wanted playmates.  I had to help him.”

 

Cypress narrowed his brows as he stared intently at the other man.  “Are you talking about the other boys, Tom?” he pressed.

 

Carruthers nodded slowly.  “I did it for him.  He needed them.”

 

Cypress swallowed hard.  The man for all intents and purposes was confessing to killing all those little boys – and kidnapping another one.  He was the child killer.  Damn.  Guiltily he realized the thought both repulsed him as well as excited him.  But as he stared over at the blank expression on Carruthers’ face, he didn’t see much in the way of sanity or rational thought there.  The question was, then, was the death of Carruthers’ son a catalyst for his behavior now? And if it was, was it the work of a sane, intelligent man or the deeds of a mentally disturbed, grief-stricken perpetrator who wasn’t legally responsible for his actions?  God knows he had tried enough cases over the years to know that sometimes criminals can do an excellent job of disguising their mental condition in hopes of getting away with the horrific deeds they had done.  Was this one of those cases?  As he stared into the eyes of the man he had known since he was a child, however, he knew it was way too soon to tell one way or the other.

 

“Tom,” he continued.  “Look at me.”  He waited several seconds until finally Carruthers eyes blinked and a change appeared to come over his face as he stared at him more directly.  “Answer me.  Did you kill all those boys?  Did you kidnap that other boy?  What you tell me will be held in the strictest of confidences, but if I’m going to represent you, I need to know the truth.  Did you do what you’re being accused of? 

 

Instead of answering him, however, Carruthers actually smiled as he murmured, “Hi, Tommy.  One more.  I just need one more.”

 

Cypress sighed.  Either Carruthers was doing an excellent job of hiding his true condition or he really had gone off the deep end.  The man seemed to exhibit moments of lucidity followed by flashes of insanity.  One thing was certain, however; he was going to have to know all the facts about this case and he would have to do everything he could for now to protect his client’s rights.  As Carruthers ignored him and continued to whisper aloud as he spoke to his deceased son, Cypress flipped his phone open to punch in a quick text to his legal assistant’s phone:  Need all info on child killer case ASAP for possible insanity defense.  Meet me first thing tomorrow to discuss. 

Chapter Text

Same Day – Early Afternoon

 

Brian glanced over at his passenger when he thought he heard something that sounded suspiciously like a stomach growling.  “Tell me you’re not hungry already,” he commented dryly.  He had watched earlier in fascination at breakfast as Justin had managed to polish off a plate of four pancakes, two links of sausage, two biscuits and a large glass of orange juice at the diner with hardly a break in between.  He hadn’t gotten the impression that his companion was an exercise maniac in his spare time between painting and attending school, so the only explanation must be that he possessed that wondrous trait known as high metabolism.  Whatever the reason, it was amazing to him that he could pack in so much food and still be so trim.  He rolled his eyes just then at the guilty look on his lover’s face in reaction to his question; he didn’t need a verbal response to know he had hit his mark. 

 

“Brian, that was four hours ago, “Justin pointed out sensibly as he smiled back at him and Brian shook his head in amusement.  Justin turned his head back toward the side window to scan the passing scenery, hoping to see a small mom-and-pop restaurant situated somewhere, but just like with the past several miles he found it devoid of any signs of retail business of any kind; it reminded him in a lot of ways of the night they had found Gus, only it had been a lot darker then.  They were in a decidedly rural part of Pennsylvania – miles and miles of golden-colored fields of wheat, neatly plaited rows of tall, greenish-brown corn stalks, and an occasional cow pasture, dotted with farmhouses that were stuck right in the middle of a small clump of trees and surrounded by more fields.  No restaurant in site.  He sighed softly, partly in disappointment over that fact but more due to the unpleasant memories the scenery evoked.  Would he ever be able to get that horrid episode out of his mind?

 

“You’re thinking about that night, aren’t you?”  Brian asked quietly from his left as he glanced over at his passenger, his thoughts on the same exact thing. 

 

Justin swallowed hard at his lover’s comment; it was amazing how much in tune the two of them were with each other.  Other than the miracle of finding Gus in time, that had been possibly the only other good thing that had come out of that terrible night – the fact that it had brought him and Brian closer together.  He turned his head to stare over at Brian’s eyes boring into his, one elegant arched eyebrow asking silently for a response.

 

He nodded.  “Yeah…I guess I can’t help it.  This scenery reminds me a lot of where we found Gus.” 

 

Brian nodded at him as he turned his eyes back to the road; almost of one accord their hands met halfway between them in shared comfort as Brian admitted, “I was thinking the same thing.  Maybe this ‘drive in the country’ suggestion wasn’t such a great idea after all.”

 

He felt a squeeze on his hand as Justin protested, “No, it was.  I love spending time with you,” he whispered sincerely, still feeling just a little bashful in Brian’s presence.  Up until now he had purposefully never allowed another man to enter his personal space, not wanting to consider the possibility of actually having a relationship with someone for fear that they would be hurt somehow – or HE would be.  It had always hounded him that he might find out something that would be heartbreaking, and he had never wanted to take that chance with someone he cared for.  That is, until he had met this man.  Now he realized even if he wanted to pull back, he couldn’t; he was in too deep already.  His face warmed as Brian looked over at him and smiled that lazy grin that made his heart flutter. 

 

“So do I,” Brian professed truthfully as Justin’s face broke out in a smile; even though there was filtered sunshine today, it was almost as if vast amounts of additional light had just poured into the car.  It dawned on him that Justin’s smile could probably serve to provide electricity for the entire population of Pittsburgh if he had the opportunity. 

 

“Brian?” 

 

“Yeah, Kreskin?” he bantered back softly, trying to lighten both their moods. 

 

Justin refused to crack so much as a smile at the familiar nickname, though, too caught up in his worrisome thoughts now that the ugly subject had reared its unwelcome head.  “What’s up next?  For…For Carruthers, I mean?” Even now it was hard to say the man’s name out loud, because it evoked all sorts of worrisome thoughts in him, especially after that horrendous vision he had had last night.  He shuddered even now at the implications of what it could mean.  He knew Brian had told him the man was being monitored round the clock by the police and there was no way he could escape, but he still couldn’t help shaking the awful notion that his dream had some basis in reality. 

 

Brian pursed his lips together for a moment; he had really hoped that he and Justin could spend one more day together, getting to know each other better and just enjoying each other’s company, without that topic coming up.  He had really wanted to avoid even bringing the fucker’s name up; there would be more than enough unpleasant matters to deal with in the coming weeks – and probably months.  But Justin deserved the truth, though; he would be crucial to any case being built against the man. 

 

Justin frowned as he noticed the firm set of Brian’s jaw.  “Brian?” he persisted softly. 

 

The detective signed in resignation; for someone he had only known for a short time, Justin could sure read his emotions well.  “Carl told me he’s going to see him at the hospital tomorrow - it’ll be the first opportunity for him to be questioned.  And he wants ME to be there, too.”

 

Brian watched as Justin dropped his hand from his and stared over at him.  “I thought you were on administrative leave.”  He knew from what Brian had told him that that was normal police protocol any time a member of the force had to discharge his weapon. 

 

Brian nodded as he darted his eyes between the road and his companion.  “I was – still am, in fact.  But Carl thinks there’s a good chance I’ll win my reinstatement tomorrow.  If I do, he wants me to be there when he questions Carruthers at the hospital.” 

 

Justin’s eyes widened.  “He does?  Is that wise?” 

 

“Not you, too,” Brian muttered defensively, his face darkening as Justin frowned at his sharp tone of voice.  “I want to be there, Justin – the man almost killed my son!  And YOU, too, by the way!  I have a right to be there!  I want to know what that goddamn bastard was thinking as he was squeezing the life out of all those children!”

 

“I know you do,” Justin told him soothingly.  “I’m not questioning that; I completely understand why you feel that way.  If I were in your shoes, I would want to be there, too.” 

 

“Then what?” Brian replied in a clipped voice.  “I’m a cop – I’m trained to be objective; it’s part of my job!”

 

“And you’re extremely good at it,” Justin assured him.  “But I also know how much you love your son.” He reached over to curl his hand around Brian’s shoulder, feeling the hard, tension-filled muscle underneath.  “Don’t take this the wrong way, Brian,” he continued, “But under the circumstances I just wonder how objective you can be.” 

 

To his surprise, Brian abruptly pulled over to the shoulder of the two-lane, rural highway and brought the sedan to a quick stop, the gravel underneath crunching as the brakes engaged.  He slammed the gearshift into park as he turned to look into Justin’s wide, expressive eyes.  “I thought you had more confidence in me than that,” he growled, clearly upset by the insinuation.

 

“Brian!” Justin protested, his eyes flashing now as he twisted his body to face him.  “Dammit, I DO!  I have all the confidence in the world in you!  You’re the most determined, perceptive, and tenacious person I’ve ever met!  You’ve also just gone through almost losing your son!  You know I’m on your side; what’s the matter with you?”

 

Brian gripped the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were white.  He turned to stare out the front window, his hard breathing and his hammering heart in his chest audible in the tense silence of the car.  He parted his lips to take in several calming breaths, knowing his anger at Justin was misdirected.  If anyone knew what he was going through, it was him.  And that was what made his conversation earlier with Carl that much more difficult to accept. 

 

He finally took in one more deep breath and let it out, releasing some of his anger and tension along the way, as he turned back to look over at his companion.  Justin’s lips were pursed tightly together – he wasn’t sure from anger or the fact that he seemed so upset with him; but his eyes were glistening with unshed tears.  Shit, he thought, as he realized what an idiot he was being.

 

He turned the car completely off and unlatched his seatbelt, scooting over in the bench seat toward Justin as he reached for his hand; to his relief, his lover didn’t yank it away, although he wouldn’t have blamed him.  On the contrary, Justin returned his gesture with a grip that threatened to cut his circulation off.  He used his other hand to grasp his chin to make sure he was looking at him as he explained softly, “I’m not angry at you, Justin.  I could never be angry at you.” 

 

Justin shook his head imperceptibly in part confusion, part relief, unable to move it much with Brian’s hand curled under his chin.  “Then what are you so angry about?  Is it Carruthers?” 

 

Brian’s thumb lightly caressed his face as he replied, “Indirectly.”  He paused for a moment before he explained, “Carl wants me to avoid being seen with you for a while.” 

 

Brian dropped his hand to Justin’s shoulder as a car went whooshing by them; Justin frowned in confusion.  “What?  Why?  You already told me that I would have to be a witness if Carruthers ever goes to trial.  Why would he say that, then?  I don’t understand.”

 

The brunet sighed.  “Carl thinks it might look,” he struggled for the words as Justin stared back at him intently, “inappropriate, if the public was aware that you and I were – involved. He thinks it could possibly jeopardize the case we’re building against him.”

 

Justin tried to shrug off Brian’s grip on his shoulder in anger but Brian wouldn’t let him.  “What!  Why?” 

 

Brian shrugged.  “The Sarge thinks that there could be some issues of collusion or impropriety if it was revealed that one of the key witnesses to the case was personally involved with the main investigative detective – kind of like we had set him up somehow.  And there’s also the fact that we didn’t catch the fucker until after the son of a police detective was kidnapped and you just happened to come up with a way to catch him before he had a chance to hurt Gus.” 

 

“That’s ridiculous!” Justin growled back at him.  “We didn’t become – involved – until AFTER Gus was found!  And Carruthers had already killed all those other boys before I could figure out where he was! There was nothing I could have done to prevent those other murders even if I wanted to!  That had nothing to do with it, Brian!” 

 

Brian looked at his lover, the blue eyes watering in righteous indignation as well as regret, and his heart melted.  He knew Justin still felt guilty about not being able to save any of the other victims.  “Come here,” he requested softly.  For a second, he was afraid that Justin would refuse him, but he watched in relief as a few seconds later Justin did as he was asked.  He slid his arm around the slim waist to pull him closer against his body, totally uncaring of anyone who might pass by.  He heard a frustrated, sorrowful sigh escape from Justin’s lips as the blond burrowed his head under his chin and molded into his embrace, placing his hand to rest palm down against his chest, right over his furiously beating heart.

 

“I know,” Brian reassured him as he hugged Justin tightly against him, his free hand gently brushing some long blond hair away from his eyes as Justin lifted his head to gaze up at him, their lips only inches apart.  He lightly caressed Justin’s cheek with the back of his hand as he whispered, “It doesn’t mean we have to stay apart from each other,” he explained as his fingers began to feather across the full lips.  “I won’t let that happen.”  Justin stared intently into his eyes as he confessed, “In fact, I told Carl in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t anyone’s business who I fucked.”

 

Uh, Oh.  As Justin’s face fell, Brian instantly realized he had worded that completely wrong.  His fears were justified when Justin pulled back from Brian’s touch.  “Is that all I am to you, Brian?  Just someone convenient to fuck?”

 

Brian placed his hand at the back of Justin’s neck, his fingers splayed on either side of the pale flesh to keep it firmly imprisoned in his grasp; he had to make Justin understand.  “Shit, Justin!  That’s not what I meant and you know it!”

 

“That’s what you said!” He pointed out, unable to move his head away.

 

Brian sighed.  “Yes, I know.  But what I meant was that it wasn’t anyone’s business who I was involved with!”  He leaned in to gently place his forehead against Justin’s, his ability to speak from his heart much easier when he wasn’t staring at those luminous blue eyes gazing into his as he whispered, “You could never be just a fuck to me, Justin.  I would…I would never give my heart to someone who was just a fuck.  And I never fuck a trick more than once.”  His breath ghosted warmly over Justin’s skin as he pointed out, “You’ve already passed that quota several times over now.”

 

But his quest to ease the tension with a little attempt at levity was lost on Justin, whose mind had ceased to function after the part about Brian giving his heart to him.  Did that mean that he felt the same way about him that HE did?  He knew it was way too soon to use the “L” word – he wasn’t certain yet where this relationship was leading and he wasn’t quite sure of his own feelings, either – but he DID know that this wasn’t just a brief fling to him or an infatuation over a handsome, sexy man who had taken an interest in him.  Yes, he knew that making love with someone for the first time would always be special to him, but he also realized there was more going on here with Brian.  The mere fact that he had been willing to break his long-standing rule of not becoming involved with someone and risking possible heartbreak down the road was evidence enough of that.

 

“Justin?” Brian whispered when his lover didn’t respond to him.  “Did you hear what I said?” 

 

Justin pulled back as he lifted his eyes to gaze into Brian’s, knowing instinctively that this man was being honest with him and also knowing he had most likely never spoken those same words to any other man before.  He nodded, not trusting himself to speak for a moment.

 

Brian lightly feathered the back of his golden hair.  “Do you believe me?” 

 

Justin licked his lips to moisten them, blushing slightly as he noticed Brian’s eyes following his every move.  “Yes,” he managed to say as he gazed into the bronze face.  “You want to keep seeing me.”

 

The corner of Brian’s mouth curled up as he smiled back at him in relief.  “You might say that,” he responded, glad to see Justin returning his smile now.   He sobered a little, though, as he clarified, “I don’t like the subterfuge, Justin, but I know why Carl needs for us to be careful.  The last thing any of us want is for Carruthers to somehow get off on some kind of technicality.  Are you okay, then, with us keeping our relationship quiet for a while?”  He detested the cat and mouse game; it wasn’t his normal style to be so low-key about anything.  But he had never had so much at stake before, either.  He had not only his son to worry about, but all those other children whose lives had been lost; not to mention Carruthers having to face charges of attempted murder with Justin, also.  He didn’t let a day go by without thinking how close he had come to losing both his son and this special man.

 

Justin felt the light touch of Brian’s fingers playing with his hair, the same electric current shooting through his body just like before.  He didn’t have much of a problem with keeping their relationship to themselves for a while; he cringed at the thought of his private life being exposed to public scrutiny.  The only thing he cared about was whether Brian wanted to continue seeing him.  He didn’t need anyone else to know for now; he just needed Brian.  “Yes,” he finally answered, realizing Brian was waiting for an answer.  “I just want the chance to get to know you better,” he whispered, his stomach doing flip flops as Brian’s fingers continued to dance across his skin. 

 

Brian smiled.  “Well, it seems we have a lot in common, then,” he observed as he inched closer to those inviting lips.  “How about we seal the deal?” he whispered, just before their mouths met for a kiss.  It started out slow and gentle but quickly began to escalate in intensity, fueled by both emotion as well as what they had experienced together.  Brian’s tongue swept lightly across the slightly-parted lips as it crept inside to taste the incredible essence that was uniquely his lover’s.  He heard Justin sigh into the kiss as his hands wound around Brian’s back and his eyes drifted shut, the feelings generated by the sensations almost overwhelming him. 

 

Brian cradled Justin’s head in his hands possessively as he angled it to deepen their kiss, pushing the smaller body down to lie lengthwise on the seat of his car as he draped himself on top.  He felt Justin’s hands creep inside the bottom of his shirt as they slowly slid up his back, lightly stroking his skin with his fingertips as his body went into full alert.  They continued to kiss as he reached between them to begin unbuttoning Justin’s shirt, itching to feel the soft skin he knew would be lying underneath.  He had succeeded in unbuttoning the entire garment when he felt Justin inexplicably pushing his hands against his chest and pulling back from him for some much-needed space.

 

“Brian,” Justin panted out, struggling to put some coherent words together to form a sentence.  “We…We can’t.  Not here.  Too open.” 

 

Brian nuzzled his neck with butterfly kisses, his hands reaching down to stroke the silken flesh of Justin’s chest, unable to resist palming over the puckered nipples as he heard Justin gasp in response.  He bit the lower earlobe of Justin’s seashell ear before he sighed.  He had just gotten though telling Justin they had to keep their relationship quiet and he was about to let his physical craving for this man get the better of him.  He lay there on top of Justin’s body for several seconds more, feeling the ragged rise and fall of his lover’s chest before he finally lifted his head to gaze into the darkened eyes that were presently the color of royal blue.  He couldn’t help stealing one additional, quick kiss before he rose on his haunches and sat up to curl his hands around the steering wheel, trying desperately to control his body’s reaction that was crying out for a release he knew would not be forthcoming – at least not here.  He peered over as Justin, too, sat up in the passenger side of the seat, his hands on his knees as he also tried to control his breathing.  His shirt was askew, his lips were puckered and swollen from their tryst, and his hair was flying in every direction, but God, he was beautiful. 

 

Their eyes bored into each other as Brian growled, “God, I want you.”  He restlessly brushed his hands through his hair in frustration, looking around for any place that they could be alone.  All he had to do was touch Justin and his common sense disappeared like a kite aloft on a windswept day. 

 

Justin swallowed as he closed his eyes, the look Brian giving him more than confirming that they felt the same way.  Brian was like a spell woven on him – an unquenchable thirst he would never get his fill of.  His body thrummed with unfulfilled completion and his pants were unbearably uncomfortable; he didn’t dare glance over at Brian again to verify he was having the same problem, but he didn’t need to.  The fact was readily apparent in the husky tone of his voice.  He bit down on his lower lip as he finally opened his eyes and turned his head to look out the window, too afraid to look at Brian directly for fear he would give way too much away.  “I do, too,” he whispered finally, his breath slightly fogging up the glass as he spoke.  He slowly began to button his shirt back up, the coolness of the car’s interior making his skin break out slightly in goose pimples.

 

Brian let out a held breath before he started up the car, leaning over to note their location on his GPS.  In the course of his job as a detective, he had become intimately familiar with most of the greater Pittsburgh area by virtue of necessity, but today he had not been concerned with sticking to a particular route.  As a result, he wasn’t that familiar with where they were at the moment, but a quick check of the map on his GPS verified that they weren’t too far away from something he DID know well; he often took his son there for weekend fishing trips.  “Perfect,” he murmured.  He smiled in satisfaction as Justin peered over at him curiously. 

 

“What?” he asked softly, his face flushing at the intense look Brian was giving him. 

 

“Ever been on a tour of the Alleghany National Forest?” he asked him oddly. 

 

Justin frowned; that wasn’t exactly what he had been expecting.  “No.”  He shook his head in puzzlement.  “Why?”

 

Brian grinned.  “Because I feel a sudden need for us to become one with nature.” 

 

 

Twenty Minutes Later – Inside the Alleghany State Park

 

Justin watched as tree after tree dotted both sides of the gravel road he and Brian were currently traveling upon; the abundance of evergreen trees were evident at every view, keeping the park unexpectedly green for mid-autumn.  There seemed to be no end to the road they had been driving on for several minutes now. 

 

“How did you know about this road?” Justin asked him.

 

Brian smiled fondly at the recollection.  “Gus and I come up here quite a bit to go fishing.  He’s not very good at it, but he still loves doing it anyway.” 

 

Justin observed how Brian’s face always transformed at the mention of his son; there could never be any doubt how he felt about him.  He shook his head in disagreement.  “I think he likes it because he gets to spend time with you.” 

 

A small nod of his head was all he noticed as Brian replied softly, “It goes both ways.” He never felt as carefree and happy as when he and his son could spend some quality time together.  Thanks to Justin, he had insured that they could continue to do that for a long time to come.  Perhaps in the not so distant future, all three of them could do it together.

 

Justin nodded in tacit agreement before inquiring, “Where are we going?  I don’t do fishing very well, either, by the way.”  He and Gus DID have something else in common, too – he really didn’t care what Brian wanted to do, either, as long as they were together for the day.  Something told him these rather stress-free outings would be few and far between soon enough.

 

Brian chuckled softly.  “Don’t worry – that’s not what I had in mind for you.”  He bestowed a crooked smile on his companion as he slowed down and turned off onto an even smaller, gravel road. 

 

Justin frowned as he noticed a slight break in the blanket of forest up ahead; he could see more trees, some cedars still full and green and some bare in the distance as Brian slowed the car down.  His face broke out into a delighted smile as they emerged into a wide clearing, an endless, broad lake glimmering like thousands of crystals under the strong, cloud-dappled rays of the mid-day sun that shone over a gently-rolling, grassy bank. 

 

Brian glanced over, hearing Justin's sharp intake of breath.  As always, he found himself entranced by the wondrous smile that Justin had; it reminded him of an exploding supernova when his lover was happy about something.  Lately there wasn’t much for Justin to smile about, so when he did it was truly an incredible sight.  It made him happy to know that he had put that smile on his face personally.  He parked the car to the right of the small, gravel parking lot and came to a stop as he turned the motor off.  Turning to Justin, he suggested simply, “Let’s take a walk.” 

 

Justin beamed at him as both men got out of the sedan and he walked over to clasp Brian’s outstretched hand in his.  Being mid-fall, there were no other signs of people around; it was as if they were the last two people on the earth at the moment, which suited both men perfectly. 

 

“Wait,” Brian said softly before they had gone only a few feet.  He left Justin standing there as he walked back to the car and opened the trunk.  A few seconds later, he had a flannel-type, navy-blue blanket that showed slight signs of wear slung over his shoulder and a medium-sized, white cardboard box with joined handles clutched in his left hand.

 

Justin’s mouth gaped open.  “That…that almost looks like a picnic basket!” 

 

Brian snorted.  “It’s a takeout box; I don’t do picnics.” 

 

Justin grinned; a comfortable-looking blanket and a box of food that Brian just happened to pluck out of the trunk of the car?  It certainly looked like a picnic to him, but he wasn’t going to argue with his lover over semantics.  “Where did that come from?” 

 

Brian shrugged as he took Justin’s hand again as they walked toward the bank overlooking the expanse of water.  “I had the diner make me up a takeout when I went to the men’s room; I put it in the trunk of the car while you were in the gift shop looking at all that outrageously old-fashioned candy shit they sell.  That gave me plenty of time.”   In fact, he had come back from the car to find Justin longingly holding a box of caramel chews in his hand, peering inside the cellophane lid intently as he tried to figure out how many varieties were inside.  Putting his distaste for such sugary, high-carb food aside, he had been forced to pay for the damn things just to get his lover out of the shop so they could leave.

 

Justin was delighted at his thoughtfulness, no matter what Brian chose to call it.  “What’s in it?” he asked curiously.  He reached over to try and take a peek, but Brian held it up high over his head so it was out of his reach.

 

He couldn’t help laughing at the pout on Justin’s face as Brian tutted, “Uh, uh, uh, Kreskin; you’ll just have to wait and see.”  He leaned in to whisper in Justin’s ear, “I had to put one additional item in there myself, though; I don’t think they sell boxes of condoms at the diner.”

 

He received the anticipated blush from his companion as he smiled down into his face and kissed his lips briefly.  “Let’s go pick out a good spot,” he said as, satisfied Justin would leave the tempting mystery box alone for a while, they ambled over to the still green-looking bank.  The temperature had finally warmed up into the low 60’s, a little warmer than had been forecast, and there was a slight breeze in the air as Brian found a nice, level area and unfurled the blanket to place it flat on the ground.  “Care to join me on our magic fucking carpet, Picasso?” He murmured as he knelt down on the blanket and tugged at Justin’s hand.  He placed the ‘un-picnic’ box down on the ground beside them and patted the spot next to him invitingly.

 

Justin smiled at him almost shyly as he nodded, sitting down on his knees as he faced his lover.  It didn’t take long before their picnic was quickly forgotten as they melded together for another kiss, Brian hands urgently reaching for the buttons on Justin’s shirt.  Deftly opening the garment in short order, he impatiently pushed it off Justin’s shoulders, pulling the blond’s roaming hands away from his own body so the clothing could fall uninhibited to the ground.   He watched as Justin pushed his jacket off and then unbuttoned his own shirt with shaky hands; he cupped his hands over the trembling ones and gently pulled them away as he quickly made short order of his own shirt and shrugged it off urgently, his body's reaction broadcasting clearly that he had waited long enough.

 

He broke off their kiss briefly to peer into Justin’s eyes, darkened and reflecting the same sort of lust and desire he was feeling as his gaze slowly traveled down to the smooth, pale flesh and the dusky pink nipples.  His hand reached out to lightly trail his fingertips down the middle of Justin’s sternum, smiling as Justin unexpectedly giggled at the ticklish sensation.  It was such a joyous, unfettered sound, one that he had never heard before and his heart soared in response. 

 

“Ticklish, huh?” he asked as his eyes twinkled.  “Where else are you ticklish?” 

 

“Nowhere,” Justin countered; he tried to look truthful but his face instantly gave himself away. 

 

The wind was knocked out of him as Brian gave him a sudden push and he fell abruptly onto his back, finding himself staring up into the amused eyes of his lover who had managed somehow to place his legs to either side of his hips.  “I know when a suspect is lying, Mr. Taylor.  Would you care to change your answer?”

 

Justin pursed his lips together, trying hard not to laugh as he finally sputtered out, “I plead the fifth!” 

 

“Very well, then,” Brian said solemnly as he gazed down into the crystal-blue, playful eyes.  “I guess I’ll just have to interrogate you in a different manner.” 

 

Justin shrieked as Brian pounced on him and began to play his fingers lightly across his belly, sides and hips, finding his lover delightfully ticklish in several places; Justin’s laughter was contagious as he found himself chuckling as the younger man tried urgently to still his roaming hands but to no avail – Brian was simply too strong for his smaller weight. 

 

“Brian, stop!  Stop it, you asshole!” he kept repeating in between bouts of laughter.  “No fair.  Police brutality!” 

 

Brian laughed as Justin continued to squirm in his grasp until finally he imprisoned Justin’s hands above his head and gazed down at the wondrous sight below him.  Justin’s eyes were sparkling with excitement, his face glowing with happiness.  He looked so content, so worry-free that for a frozen moment in time Brian wished that they could stay just like this forever.  He watched as Justin’s smile faded into something more serious-looking when he noticed the desire shining up at him as Brian’s mouth crooked into a tender smile.  “So fucking beautiful,” he whispered, not sure if he had said it aloud but knowing he must have by the way that Justin’s eyes widened in response. 

 

He shook his head slightly, wondering how he had become so enamored of this man before he leaned down and touched his lips to Justin’s; the kiss quickly deepened as he demanded entrance and plunged inside, hearing a slight moan from his lover as his pliant lips parted in reaction.  He was a little surprised but pleased as he felt Justin’s hands at his waistband, tugging at the lone button to pull the flaps apart before he slowly managed to unzip his jeans.  A few seconds later, he gasped into Justin’s mouth as he felt a warm hand slide inside the constrictive denim and cotton of his briefs to curl around his aching cock, tentatively at first but then more confidently as he heard himself responding positively to his action.

 

“Yes,” he hissed out in encouragement as he pulled back just enough to look into Justin’s darkened eyes; the pupils were so large and expressive; his whole face was expressive.  His lips were parted in a slight “O” shape as he locked gazes with Brian as if he were staring into his very soul.  “Don’t hold back,” he urged him, his voice gravelly with need. 

 

Justin nodded, his face flushing as he felt the clear evidence of Brian’s desire for him cradled in his hand.  He slid his thumb over the end, marveling at how hot and silky the flesh was and how easily his hand slowly slid up and down the now-leaking member, his hand quickly becoming slick with Brian’s pre-come.  His breath hitched at Brian’s reaction to his ministrations; to have that power over someone so breathtakingly masculine and majestic was a heady feeling indeed.   He heard Brian moan as he lightly juggled his balls momentarily before returning to his cock, which was now rock hard and dying to be freed.

 

“Justin...Stop,” he heard Brian say unexpectedly, his breath ragged and shallow.  With extreme reluctance, Justin kept his hand curled around the hot flesh but stopped what he was doing to lift his heavy-lidded gaze upward in question. 

 

“Not…not this way,” Brian told him as Justin looked at him a little hurt.  You are so sensitive, Kreskin, he teased him silently as he hastened to explain.  “I want to fuck you; I want to come inside you.”  He knew he was apt to cream his pants any moment if Justin didn’t stop what he was doing, and that was NOT what he had in mind.  For someone so virtually inexperienced, this man could make his body come alive in seconds; hell, all he had to do was stare at him like he was doing now and he was apt to lose whatever control he still had.  He reached to pull Justin’s talented hand away from his cock, relieved that he understood the reason why as his lover rose to lean back on his haunches to stare down at his sweaty face.

 

“Let me,” Justin implored softly as Brian nodded.  The blond reached up to slowly tug at Brian’s jeans and briefs, pulling them down his long legs in agonizingly slow motion as if he were worshipping him. 

 

“Justin…”  Brian almost pleaded; his lover’s eyes darkened even more as his cock was finally freed of its constraints and sprung up, proud and leaking for his inspection.  Brian watched in fascination, his complaint about the languid pace forgotten as the tip of Justin’s tongue snaked out to wet his dry lips while he brazenly admired Brian’s dick, making the detective even more certain he was about to embarrass himself if they didn’t pick up their pace.  It seems his inexperienced lover was quickly becoming his equal in a lot of ways; his previous embarrassment and awkwardness about sex was quickly fading away to be replaced with a type of wanton, insatiable hunger now, much like his own. 

 

“Damn it, Justin!” he growled impatiently as he quickly stood up and, bending over, hurriedly toed off his socks and shoes and pulled the rest of his clothing off in record time.  “Stand up,” he demanded, not even bothering to hide his urgency now.

 

Justin flushed a deep shade of red at the husky tone in Brian’s voice, but did as he was commanded as he rose from his knees and then to a standing position, his eyes slowly lifting to meet Brian’s as the brunet merely grunted out, “Off.” 

 

Justin’s breathing caught in his throat; his previous bluster evaporated as Brian openly ogled his body and he hadn’t even taken his pants off yet.  It was one thing for them to fuck in his dimly-lit bedroom or privately in the shower, but it was quite different to take off all his clothes in broad daylight out in the open for anyone else to see. 

 

He hesitated for a just a second before his mind was made up FOR him.  “God, Justin!” Brian growled in frustration; he knew his lover wasn’t trying to be a tease, but there was only so much he could take.  “How much willpower do you think I fucking have?”  Justin’s eyes grew large as Brian reached to take hold of his pants and briefs and, in one swift motion, yanked them down his slim body, the proof of his desire standing erect and hard for his lover’s admiration.  Brian sucked in a breath of appreciation as he squatted down while Justin toed off his socks and shoes before stepping out of the rest of his clothing, his dick bobbing up and down slightly in reaction as Brian found his mouth in perfect alignment to his delicious target.  He couldn’t resist placing his hands around Justin’s slim hips as he took a broad swipe with his tongue from the tip of his lover’s leaking cock down to his balls; he heard a whimper from above just before Justin sagged in his embrace.

 

He gently pulled Justin down to rest on his knees, helping to hold him up as he scooted around behind him.  “Put your weight on your elbows and spread your legs apart,” he softly instructed him, knowing this was going to be something new for his young lover.  “I’m going to make you feel so good,” he promised him as Justin turned his head to look at him and blushed over the awkward stance. He placed a brief kiss on the soft lips in reassurance before Justin nodded and he laid his hands on the soft, luscious globes of flesh staring at him so temptingly.  He spread them apart eagerly, his mouth watering at the wrinkled skin throbbing at his inspection, his cock pulsing in anticipation of being imbedded in the tightness he knew he would find there.  He longed to lap at that winking flesh with his tongue, remembering before how delicious it was, but he knew it would have to wait. Leaning back on his knees, he released his hold briefly on Justin to reach over and fish a condom and small tube of lube out of the cardboard box, ripping the wrapper open urgently with his teeth and tossing the paper aside.  He was surprised to find his hands shaking slightly as he deftly rolled on the rubbery substance and squirted a generous amount of gel onto his hand, sliding it quickly up and down his cock as his pulse quickened in anticipation. 

 

Justin’s heart began to pound as he heard Brian preparing himself; he felt somewhat silly perched on his hands and knees like a dog, but all thoughts of awkwardness disappeared from his mind as he felt Brian’s hands once more grasping his ass possessively, hot and demanding.  His lover’s warm breath washed over his cheek and his face flushed as he heard Brian growl, “You’re mine – all mine.  I’m going to fuck you until you go blind.” 

 

“Arggggh,” Justin moaned out as he felt the tip of Brian’s steely cock pushing in slightly; he could feel Brian’s heart beating furiously against his back as he reached back to grip Brian’s muscled thigh.  He took a calming breath and forced himself to relax as he breathed out desperately, “More; I need more.”

 

Brian nodded and grunted as he pushed in harder, deeper; he gripped Justin’s slim waist tightly on each side, pulling him flush against his body as he pressed in even rougher, all the way until they were completely skin on skin.  He could feel Justin trembling slightly in his arms as he whispered, “Rock with me, Justin; push back against me.” he urged, wanting Justin to experience the same heights of pleasure that he was providing him. 

 

He pushed Justin’s upper body down onto the blanket and twined their fingers together, his breath catching in his throat at the trust being given to him as he took a moment to admire the smooth expanse of alabaster skin.  His felt Justin squeezing tightly against his cock as his body began to rock in and out of his slender lover, who began to synchronize his movements perfectly with his own as their bodies undulated up and down like a well-oiled machine.

 

As they continued to move together, Brian began to rain kisses on Justin’s neck and back, tasting the saltiness of his sweat under his lips.  “God, so tight, so fucking tight,” he murmured as Justin timed his pushes perfectly with his thrusts, his muscles clenching against his cock instinctively as if he knew exactly what to do to please him.

 

He knew his pleasure was quickly building to a point of no return as he broke off his clasp of Justin’s right hand to grasp his lover’s thick, throbbing cock, jerking it in time with his movements as his grunts became more and more vocal, matching the keening noises of ecstasy escaping from Justin’s lips as he called his name over and over like a mantra.  A few more tugs on Justin’s cock and the body underneath him promptly exploded in a series of jerks and twitches as Justin cried out with a loud, guttural noise and came all over his hand, hot and sticky.  Brian pounded into his lover mercilessly now, over and over again, unable to control his emotions, until he arched his back and came with a loud cry, his face contorting from the effort as his come spurted furiously into the condom. 

 

He collapsed on top of Justin now; their bodies spread facedown onto the blanket, skin and hair plastered together in a sweaty mess, twin hearts beating at an almost impossible pace.  He allowed himself the luxury of cradling the smaller body beneath him for a short time, his hands caressing Justin’s shoulders before he reluctantly pulled back enough to tie off the condom and throw it onto the ground several feet away. 

 

Flopping onto his back next to Justin, the two men turned their heads to gaze at each other, the unexpectedly warm autumn breeze wafting over their skin.  Brian turned on his side and supported his head with his hand as his gaze swept over the sweaty, thoroughly debauched body that was his lover’s.  The corner of his mouth turned up into an affectionate smile as Justin blushed at his intense scrutiny.  For all the enthusiasm that Justin put into their lovemaking, he loved the fact that he could still make him do that with merely a look. 

 

He reached over to brush some damp hair back from the pale brow as he whispered softly, “You still have doubts about just being another fuck now?” 

 

Justin gazed into the intense hazel eyes, watching in fascination as the pupils darted quickly from side to side as Brian spoke; he had come to realize when he was emotional about something they always did that.  He shook his head a little as he reached down to clasp Brian’s hand against his chest, their fingers interwoven together.  He looked down at Brian’s larger hand locked firmly with his, still a little amazed that he had caught the fancy of this intriguing, complicated, magnificent man.  “No,” he whispered back as his eyes lifted to meet his lover’s.  He smiled over at him.  “None.”  He knew that no man who merely wanted a way to satisfy his sexual urges would have treated someone the way that he had treated him.  The intense emotions, the way that Brian looked at him, and the way that he touched him and cared about his feelings; no, that was not the reaction of someone who just wanted to use him as a convenient outlet to expend some sexual energy before he moved on to the next conquest. 

 

Brian nodded, pleased that Justin was beginning to understand just what he meant to him.  He knew their relationship was still evolving, still deepening, but he wanted nonetheless for him to know that he cared for him, probably more than even he was willing to admit to himself yet.  But whether it had been their shared bonding over rescuing his son, Justin’s compassion and courage in the face of possible ridicule and danger, or something else, he did know that this man was beginning to mean something very special to him, and there was no way – police protocol or not – that he wasn’t going to keep exploring wherever it took them.

 

Noticing what appeared to be goose pimples on Justin’s skin, he reached across the slender body to pull the corner of the blanket over them as Justin turned on his side to face him.  Scooting over closer to the blond, Brian swaddled them together against the slight coolness of the breeze, noticing Justin struggling to stay awake as he surrounded him with the warmth from the flannel and his body heat.  Threading one long leg between Justin’s protectively, he watched as the golden eyelashes fluttered in sated heaviness as he whispered, “Go to sleep, Kreskin; I’ll be right here when you wake up.”

 

The blue eyes focused for a brief moment on Brian’s face and a soft smile broke out on his lips at Brian’s pet name for him as he murmured, “There’d better be chicken in that box,” before he surrendered to his body’s craving for rest and closed his eyes.  Brian laughed softly at his statement, indulging in a few seconds of gazing at the beautiful face now at peace, knowing these times would be scarce soon, before he, too, closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, their hands still clasped between them.

 

 

 

The Next Morning – Police Headquarters

 

Satterwhite glanced up from his desk as he noticed Brian Kinney entering through the precinct’s back door; the man had been in a bear of a mood since he had been relegated to paper pushing duty while on administrative leave; of course, Kinney’s normal mood wasn’t exactly hospitable on any given day, but for the past few days he had been a real bitch to be around. 

 

He found it a little hard to feel too sorry for his predicament, though; yes, his son had been placed in danger and had been hospitalized as a result, and yes, he had been forced to do mindless grunt work while the internal investigation had been ongoing, an odious predicament no doubt for someone like Kinney who thrived on the thrill of the hunt and being in the midst of action and mayhem, but on the other hand, the man’s name was now plastered all over the news outlets and it seemed that every other call that came in was someone from the press wanting to speak with him regarding the child killer case.  What he wouldn’t give to have had anyone pay that much attention to him during his own career!  Now, it was too late – he was due to retire soon, one of several cops destined to remain in obscurity, hidden behind the others who constantly made asses of themselves merely for the sake of getting their name recognized. 

 

He watched as Kinney walked by without even giving him so much as an acknowledgment, even though they had been working together at the same precinct for some time now.  Pompous ass, he thought, fuming.  Thinks he’s too good enough for the rest of us.  He found that extremely ironic in light of the fact that he was presently having to work double shifts right now – one here at the police precinct and the other one at the hospital – guarding that crazy kook that Kinney had apprehended, Carruthers, who unfortunately appeared to be well on his way now to a full recovery, at least physically. 

 

Mentally, however, it was apparent at least to him that the man wasn’t all there upstairs.  He had lost count of the number of times he had heard the man talking to himself from his hospital bed, spouting all sorts of nonsense about ‘playing catch with Tommy’ or ‘going camping with Tommy’ or ‘needing one more player for the team.’  He didn’t have any formal training in psychology, but he had come to the conclusion on his own that either the man was a consummate actor or he really was off his rocker.  That made him furious as hell, though, because if he was, it also meant the man would most likely spend the rest of his life relatively comfortably in a mental facility in spite of what he had done.  He shook his head in disgust; knowing how crazy their justice system was, he wouldn’t put it past the guy to eventually be declared sane through medication and somehow wind up walking away unpunished, a free man.  As he followed Kinney’s movements down the hallway, he decided that perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing after all to be an unheralded policeman in a sea of blue; right now all he wanted to do was go through the motions of his job for a few more months until he could blissfully retire and never think about this place again.

 

 

 

Carl Horvath glanced up in reaction to the sound of a brief knock on his open door and nodded, putting the folder he had in his hand down on his desk.  “Brian…Come in,” he advised as his detective approached and sat down to face him, his long legs splayed over the side of the chair.  Horvath noticed the creases of worry and exhaustion on the handsome man’s face as he picked up the folder in front of him and extended it toward him.  “I’ve got the results of the internal investigation into Carruthers’ shooting,” he told Brian, noting the present time on the industrial-looking, black and white clock perched above his office door.  “You’re an hour early,” he observed.

 

Brian shrugged as he opened the folder to peer inside at the contents.  “Couldn’t sleep,” he responded curtly.  It had been the truth, too; between his eagerness to be present at Carruthers’ first official questioning at the hospital this morning, and his thoughts in a swirl over his and Justin’s relationship, he hadn’t felt much like sleeping.  Add that to the fact that he would find out this morning if he could go back out on detective duty and it had made for a very restless night’s sleep. 

 

He nodded in satisfaction as he read the investigative summary stating that he had acted appropriately in light of the circumstances and was being reinstated to full detective status immediately.  “Glad to know that Internal Affairs has some common sense.”  He hadn’t really doubted they would reach this conclusion – after all, the fucker had a gun trained on Justin at the time – but it was still a relief to know he was now back out on official duty and more importantly, he could now participate actively in Carruthers’ questioning.  “When are we leaving?” he asked as he dropped the folder back down on his sergeant’s desk.

 

Horvath knew that would be Brian’s first question; he was just as eager to question Carruthers as he was.  “Thirty minutes,” he told him.  “I just finished up a call to the hospital; Carruthers is being moved to a private room on the fourth floor this morning, and I was asked to wait until 10:00 to see him.  I also found out his attorney will be present as well during the questioning.”

 

Brian snorted.  “Why am I not surprised?  For a raving lunatic – as I’m sure he would want us to believe – he sure didn’t waste time securing counsel.  Who is it?”

 

Horvath paused for a beat before he replied quietly, “Alan Cypress; Cypress & Sydney.”

 

Brian whistled; Alan Cypress was a well-known criminal attorney in town who had represented several high-profile cases in the past.  He was known for his bullheaded determination and drive and also for an outrageously high success rate in winning his cases.  “How the fuck can he afford HIM?  I thought the man was a painter.” 

 

Carl nodded.  “He is.  But remember his father was a police chief for several years; you can accumulate a lot of money – as well as a lot of contacts – with that sort of position.  His mother is still alive, too, by the way; I remember her from the days when I knew Tom.  She was always raving about Carruthers being such a wonderful son at police benefits.   I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if she had a hand in obtaining Cypress for her only son’s defense.”

 

Brian growled, “Well, apparently his days as a Boy Scout are long gone now.”

 

Horvath slid open his top left drawer and retrieved Brian’s holster and gun.  “Here,” he said as he handed it to Brian, who quickly put it on, feeling like a part of him was finally back in place.  Carl stared into his detective’s eyes for a moment.  “You remember what I told you yesterday?”

 

Brian pursed his lips together.  “Which part?” he asked defensively. He wasn’t sure if he had been more perturbed over his superior’s insinuation that he couldn’t remain professional in the presence of his child’s attempted killer or his insistence that he and Justin’s personal relationship remain a secret for now. 

 

Carl sighed, knowing how easy it was to ruffle Brian’s feathers.  It made it more difficult at times to deal with Brian, but his bluntness and no-nonsense approach, as well as his tendency to cut through all the bullshit in a case, wa