Theodore sat down beside Russell on the couch, one hand wrapped tightly around his cane, the other wrapped around the handle of a coffee mug. He let out a slow breath, closing his eyes as he leaned back against the pillow shoved up against the back of the couch. It helped offer a big more support for his back, but it still wasn’t entirely ideal.
“How’s your pain?” Russell asked.
Theodore opened his eyes. He hadn’t been asked that since his parents stopped babysitting him after he got out of the hospital. “Fine. It just acts up a bit when I’m stressed out.”
“I’d imagine so. Do you take anything for it?”
“I have painkillers. I avoid them when I can. The last thing Vera needs is for her father to fall back on drugs instead of, like, yoga or something,” Theodore said.
“If you ever feel like you need them, it’s okay to take them as directed. Following the directions doesn’t mean you’ve fallen to counting on drugs. It just means you’re in a lot of pain,” Russell said.
Theodore turned his head enough to look at the man. “I know, thank you.” He cleared his throat, eyes shifting to the ceiling as he dug a heel into his hip. “So, umm, you said working homicide was better than narcotics?”
“Yeah. No more undercover work, no more drug busts, no more drug house raids.”
Theodore glanced over at him. “You were undercover?”
“Oh, of course. Sometimes, we need an insider in the gang or the house to get what we need for a raid,” Russell said.
“How long were you undercover?”
“Well, I did four times before my promotion. The longest was for a year, two months, and six days, though.”
“Must’ve been a pretty shitty time, right?”
Russell shrugged. “I don’t know. Why?”
“Because you had how long you were there memorized down to the day. That’s how I count how long I was married, how long I was in the hospital, how long court went on.”
The detective offered a smile. “Yeah, I suppose it wasn’t a great time.” He took a sip of his coffee and cleared his throat. “I watched three kids die that year. Either one of their members or the members of other gangs. They choose kids because they’re easy to manipulate, because kids think that gang shit is what they want. Sometimes, they think it’s the only option to keep themselves or their family afloat. It was just…” He shook his head. “I was off work for almost four months afterward. Alcohol, smoking, and therapy for four months straight. Thankfully, I’ve stopped leaning on all three to survive now. But, uh, it was hard. I had never in my life been more thankful for a promotion and reassignment.”
“Christ, I’m sorry you had to witness that kinda stuff. It’s… terrible.”
Russell nodded. “Yeah, it wasn’t ideal, that’s for sure. But, hey, I’m mostly okay now.” He took a sip of coffee before resting the cup on his leg again. “Mm. What about you?”
“What about me?” Theodore asked.
“Are you mostly okay now?”
Theodore raised an eyebrow. “Are you talking about the raccoon?”
“No, but I can ask about both. Are you feeling calmer?” Russell asked.
“My heart’s stopped racing. I guess that’s something, right?”
“Definitely something.” Russell shifted on the couch. “What about after your… stay in the hospital?”
“I am… mostly okay now. I was in, umm, therapy for a little while, as much as my insurance would cover.” Oddly enough, Russell was just about the only person that knew that, save for Vera. Russell coming forward to say he had been in therapy made Theodore feel more comfortable about it. “Most of my injuries have healed. The hip will be the biggest problem, the longest to heal, and my doctor said it’s pretty likely I’ll suffer from back pain for the rest of my life without more surgery.”
“Are you gonna get it?”
“Doubtful. I’m going to be in debt until I die from the hospital stay as is. I don’t wanna add another surgery to it.”
“Understandable. Besides, you seem pretty damn strong. You don’t need a million surgeries to keep up that strength,” Russell said.
Theodore snorted. “Strong?” He shook his head. “Strong isn’t in my vocab for any of this.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I stayed with the bastard for so damn long. It’s not like the beating that landed me in the hospital was the first one. It wasn’t the first time. It was just the first one that required me to seek care that wasn’t available inside my home,” Theodore said. Russell turned on the couch, elbow digging into the back of it. Theodore flinched away from him, closing his eyes as he shook his head. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize to me,” Russell said. Theodore forced his eyes open. “Do you want me to move? I wasn’t going to touch you. I need you to know that.”
“Y-you’re fine where you are,” Theodore said.
After a moment, Russell nodded. “I, uh, I was just going to say that… how long you stayed with him doesn’t determine how strong you are. How much abuse you took doesn’t determine how strong you are. He didn’t make you who you are or any of that bullshit. He put you in a situation that required you to be strong in order for you to make it through it and come out alive on the other side. You had, what, a shattered hip and a broken tibia? Fibula?”
“Tibia,” Theodore said with a nod. “And I messed up my shoulder and elbow pretty bad, not to mention the back.”
“Right. And you had surgery to repair at least three of those things, if I’m not mistaken,” Russell said. Theodore nodded. “You’re strong, Theo. You wouldn’t have survived any of this shit if you weren’t strong. There’s no doubt about that in my mind. Strong is… definitely in your vocabulary, and it’s influenced by this, not by how long you were convinced that you were a piece of shit who didn’t deserve better.”
“Well, umm…” Theodore cleared his throat. “Thank you.”
“No problem. I know it… doesn’t mean much, especially coming from some random homicide cop, but…” Russell lifted a shoulder. “But you don’t deserve to have to feel like you’re a piece of shit all the time. You don’t deserve to feel like, well, like you deserved what he did to you. No one–well, okay. The majority of people don’t deserve to feel like they’re garbage.”
Theodore raised an eyebrow. “The majority?”
“Yeah. People like your ex deserve to feel like they’re garbage, because they are garbage,” Russell said.
After a moment, Theodore nodded. “Yeah. If nothing else, I’ve managed to realize that part in my time since the hospital… visit.”
“That’s good. That’s one of the things you do deserve. The knowing part, not the hospital part.”
After a moment, Theodore nodded. “You know… I can’t decide if I like that it seems so easy to talk to you.”
Russell smiled. “Sorry about that. I try to present and hold myself in a way that makes people feel safe and comfortable when it comes to talking to me. A lot of my job involves talking to people on the worst day of their lives. Being closed off and aggressive isn’t the best way to go about it,” he said.
Again, Theodore nodded. “Yeah, I can imagine not.” He cleared his throat. “Thanks again for… for coming over here and checking the house, even if it was just a darn raccoon. I just–Thank you.”
“Not a problem at all. You’re very welcome.”
“My, umm, my body doesn’t seem to think it’s in extreme danger anymore. You can leave and get some more sleep or something whenever you want to. I’ll be okay,” Theodore said.
“I’m fine staying here if you need me here. Do you want me to leave?”
Theodore, rather than going with his usual immediate response, gave himself a moment to actually think. He shook his head. “Not yet.”
“Then I’ll stay.”
Theodore shifted, resting the side of his head on the back of the couch. “Do you ever get tired of that?”
“Of everything being no problem?”
Russell shook his head. “No. I only go for ‘you’re welcome’ if I assume the person will be offended by ‘no problem’. Otherwise, I wanna make sure the person I’m helping or talking to knows that what I’m doing genuinely is no problem. I don’t want them to feel guilty for asking for help or whatever. A lot of people are already embarrassed to ask for help. I kinda hope my ‘no problem’s make seem less embarrassing. Though there’s totally nothing to be embarrassed about in the first place,” he said.
Theodore smiled faintly. “You’re a real good guy, Russell. I bet you make a pretty good cop, too.”
“Well, I try to be. Thank you.”
“Can I ask you… what drives you to be that way?”
“Of course.” Russell shrugged. “I mean, I kinda always wanted to do the cop thing. My aunt was a cop, a real good once. I aspired to be like her, to do the same thing. And because it was the job I wanted–to be able to help people, to solve crimes, to fight crime–I wanted to do it right. I don’t want people to be scared of me because I’m a white guy with a badge on his belt and a gun on his hip. I want people to feel comfortable reporting their crimes to me. I want them to be comfortable with me being at their house to question them. I just… want people to know that, y’know… the bad few in the bunch–the ones the media reports on–aren’t the only ones out there.”
After a moment, Theodore nodded. “Well, for what it’s worth, people like me feel… a little bit better when cops like you come into their hospital room and give them news.”
Russell offered a little smile. “I’m glad.”
Theodore closed his eyes. “So, since you’re planning on staying, would you like to watch a movie or something?”
“Sure, if you’d like to watch one, we certainly can. Don’t go looking for things just to entertain me. I’m not here to be entertained or catered to. I’m here to make sure you feel safe,” Russell said. “If you need to sleep or anything, you can. You look tired. I can imagine raising a little girl while you’re injured can make a man even more tired than usual.”
Christ, was he ever right about that. “Are you sure?” Theodore asked.
Russell nodded. “Of course. If you need some rest, get some rest. I’ll keep an eye on the place while I’m here, make sure nothing–person or raccoon–gets in here.”
“Thank you,” Theodore whispered.
The detective only smiled. “No problem, Theodore.”
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