Russell opened his eyes as Theodore shifted on the couch. He turned his head to the side, just to see if the man had woken up. Nope, still sound asleep. Russell reached out and grabbed the blanket, carefully tugging it back up to cover Theodore’s shoulders. When the man didn’t move or protest, Russell pulled his hand back to himself and leaned his head against the back of the couch again, closing his eyes.
Russell, though he missed getting an extra three hours of sleep, hadn’t been lying when he’d said he didn’t mind staying at the house with Theodore. If it meant the man could sleep, he saw no harm in losing his own sleep. Russell had certainly functioned on much less sleep, anyway. When he’d been working the Narcotics Division, he had managed on half-hour naps for weeks.
Theodore, unliked Russell, was already injured. The more sleep he got, the better. He’d heal faster that way. Russell didn’t need sleep to heal anything. He’d manage just fine, as long as he got to close his eyes every now and then.
Theodore grunted, jolting away from the back of the couch. Instinctively, Russell laid a hand on the man’s back. “Hey, you’re okay. I-it was just a bad dream. You’re safe,” Russell said, his voice soft. It felt odd to use his, ‘we just arrested him, he can’t hurt you anymore’ voice on Theodore instead of some homicidal maniac’s captive. It felt incredibly odd.
“I didn’t… I didn’t scream or anything, right?” Theodore asked, dropping his head to his hands.
“No, you didn’t. You grunted like you were in pain, and then you sat up real quick. That’s it,” Russell said.
Theodore nodded. “That’s something,” he said quietly. “What time is it?”
Russell looked down at his watch. “You slept for about two hours, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Christ.” Theodore scrubbed both hands over his face. “Are you hungry, Russell? Can I… can I make you breakfast or something?”
“Are you hungry? Because if you aren’t, I’ll just grab breakfast when I head in for work.”
“I don’t know yet, but I know I need something to do with my hands, something to keep myself busy,” Theodore said.
Russell nodded. “Okay. Let’s go make breakfast, then.”
“You can sit in here if you want. I’ll be fine by myself long enough to make breakfast,” Theodore said.
“Do you need me to stay in here?” Russell asked. Theodore shook his head. “Do you want me to?”
“I-I think… I would prefer you in the kitchen. I just don’t want you to be uncomfortable if I don’t let you help.”
“I won’t help with breakfast if you don’t ask for it. I’ll just watch until instructed otherwise,” Russell said.
Theodore’s shoulders seemed to relax. “Thank you.”
“Of course.” Russell pushed himself to his feet and grabbed Theodore’s cane. “Benefits of inviting a detective over. I’m really good at following orders.” Theodore smiled, accepting his cane as soon as Russell pressed it to the floor in front of him.
“I’m glad. I don’t think I can handle another person telling me what’s best for me or trying to take over for me,” Theodore said. One hand wrapped tightly around his cane, he held out his free hand. “Can you…? I’ve been sitting too long.”
“Of course,” Russell repeated. He grabbed Theodore’s free hand and helped him to his feet.
“No problem.” Russell kept his pace slow as he walked alongside Theodore on the short walk to the kitchen. “Do people really believe they know what’s best for you?”
“They’re well-intentioned. I just have things I have to do for myself–by myself–or else I feel like I’m failing at something. Failing at being human, failing at rehab, failing at healing, failing at being a dad.” Theodore shook his head. “Just a lot of failing, I guess.”
“It’s understandable. The fear and feeling of being a failure after an accident of some kind. Suddenly having to count on other people and rehab and therapy can be difficult as hell,” Russell said.
“Have you ever had an injury bad enough for that?”
“For rehab? Uh, only once. I got hit by a car when I was a kid, fucked–sorry, screwed up my back pretty bad. I was in rehab for the first two weeks, and then I had normal physical therapy for a few months after that.”
“Christ. You just got hit by a car?”
“Yeah. One of the guys in my class–Guess I should say by ‘kid’, I meant high school. That’s important. One of the guys in my class drove up onto the sidewalk to ‘joke’ around or something. I think that was his argument when we sued for medical expenses. He did it four times, hit me on the fifth time. According to his argument, he tried to hit the break to scare me with the noise, like he’d done the first time. But he just pressed down on the gas harder instead. Apparently, it was an accident.” Russell shrugged. “Never knew how true that was, but you know.”
“I–Thank God you’re okay.”
“Yeah, I definitely thanked Him a couple times, in between thanking the doctors and the fact that he wasn’t going faster. Hell, apparently, if he had hit me from a slightly different angle, I could’ve shattered my pelvis. If I had fallen differently, I could’ve damaged my spine enough to never be able to walk again.” Russell shrugged. “Just a lot of things that could’ve happened if one thing had been different, you know? Keeps me thankful, I guess.”
Theodore nodded. “Jesus, it’s so damn nice to hear someone else express that thought, too.”
“Which one?” Russell asked.
“Being thankful that it wasn’t worse. It always upset my parents when I said that, like they thought it was my way of defending him. Christ, I was done defending him. I’d done that my whole relationship with him. But every time they talked about what he’d done to me, I just said I was thankful that it wasn’t worse.
“It wasn’t defending him. At least, it wasn’t supposed to be. I was just… genuinely thankful it wasn’t worse. I could’ve been dead. He could’ve beat Vera or killed her after the ambulance took me away, but I had worked up the courage to tell them to call the cops, to take her away from him, that I hadn’t just fallen down the stairs like he said I had. But, umm, but I’m just glad to hear… someone else think the same thing. I’ve felt like a crazy person since this happened.”
Russell nodded. “People can have a hard time wrapping their minds around it. They’ll say things to people like, ‘You should be thankful it’s not worse’, or ‘Well, it could’ve been worse. You should be thankful this is all that happened’. But when you say the same thing, you’re downplaying what happened to you. In my experience, most of the time, they think they’re being helpful, even though it just sounds condescending.”
“Yeah, my parents were definitely trying to be helpful. They just… didn’t realize that me saying that it could’ve been worse is what was getting me through my days,” Theodore said.
“And believe it or not, that was entirely valid,” Russell said. “For that to be what was getting you through the day? That’s valid.”
Theodore offered a smile. “Thank you, Russell. Really.”
“No problem.” Russell drummed his hands against the counter. “Sure I can’t help with breakfast?”
“Sure. I’m sure.”
“Okie dokie.” Russell folded his arms over the counter. “What… are you making?”
Theodore chuckled. “You don’t have to keep me talking every second. Silence is okay.”
“Do you want silence? I’ll shut up if you do, but say yes because you want silence, not because you think I’m tired of talking,” Russell said.
“Are you… tired of talking?”
“Never in a million years. I’ve been told to shut up more times in my life than days that I’ve been alive,” Russell said.
Theodore laughed. “Good to know. Well then, Detective. Keep the chit-chat coming.”
Russell slid into the driver’s seat of his car, flashing a smile as Theodore held out a travel mug. “You don’t have to do that.”
“I do. You got no sleep for me,” Theodore said. He gave the mug a tiny shake, so small it was barely even noticeable. “Just make sure to bring it back, Detective.”
“Bring it back. Will do. Thank you.” Russell grabbed the mug and set it in the cup holder. “What do you and your daughter currently eat?”
“Because breakfast was… hard for you. Believe it or not, I saw that you were in pain. I just kept my mouth shut on that particular thing, talked about other things instead. So I’m imaging it’s all been easy meals since the accident.”
After a moment, Theodore nodded. “Yeah, mostly pizza or takeout food that I can have delivered to the house. If I don’t have to leave, and if it’s cheap, I’ll probably get it,” he said.
“Thought so. So, how about tonight, after I get off shift, I return this coffee mug to you and bring you guys food?” Russell asked. He held up a hand before Theodore could say anything. “I’m not asking for anything in return. I’m not asking to stay and eat with you. I’m not asking you to offer up any kind of favor in return. I’m just asking if, since I’m already making a trip back to return the mug, you also want me to bring supper.”
Theodore cleared his throat, adjusting his grip on his cane. “I don’t want you spending money on us, on me.”
“Is that the only thing stopping you from saying yes?”
“I… think so?”
“It’ll be homemade, then. I won’t spend anything more than what I already have access to,” Russell said.
Theodore held out his free hand, pointing at the badge clipped to Russell’s belt. “Swear on your badge?”
Russell smiled. “I swear on my badge. I won’t spend any money.”
“Then… I guess I’ll see you tonight. Does six work for you?”
“Six works just fine. I’ll see you with food and this here travel mug at six,” Russell said.
Theodore smiled, though it was faint. “See you then, Russell. Drive safe.”
Theodore took a step back and closed Russell’s door. He lifted a hand in departure, which Russell quickly returned. The man smiled, not heading back toward the house until Russell had pulled away from the sidewalk.
Russell planned to stay true to his word. He wasn’t a liar, after all. He would, however, be phoning a friend.
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