Theodore grabbed his cane, using it to help himself off the couch. He headed over to the front door, unlocked the chain lock and the one in the knob itself, and pulled open the door. Russell, though he hadn’t knocked, stood outside, his head bowed.
“Are you okay?” Theodore asked.
“I’m good,” Russell said, his voice quiet. He lifted his head, clearing his throat. “Do you want me to sleep on the couch?”
Theodore reached out and grabbed the detective’s hand, gently tugging him into the house. “Like I said, I want to try letting you sleep in my bed with me. I… I trust you, as much as that scares me. I don’t think you’ll try anything shifty, to say the least.”
After a moment, Russell nodded. “If you change your mind at any point, you let me know, and I’ll move to the couch.”
“Okay.” Theodore closed the door and twisted the lock back into place. Before he could get to it, Russell reached out and slid the chain lock across. “Thank you.”
Theodore looked up at Russell, one corner of his mouth scrunched up. Whatever that crime scene had been, Russell definitely wasn’t ‘good’. It didn’t matter how many times he said it or insisted it was true–Theodore knew damn well it was a lie. “What…?”
Russell lifted his eyes to Theodore’s face, frozen halfway through kicking off his shoes. “What… what?”
“Nevermind. I-it’s nothing.”
“Mm.” Russell looked back down at his feet and kicked his shoes off the rest of the way. Lifting his hand to Theodore’s cheek, he pressed a kiss to the man’s forehead. “You don’t have to fear asking me questions, even the ones you think might irritate me. I’ve lived through what you feel, initiated by a different relation… obviously. But, uh, I won’t lash out at you.”
“I wish it was that easy for me,” Theodore said quietly.
“I know, Theo.”
Theodore cleared his throat and stuck out a hand. “Come on. You look tired as hell.”
Russell smiled. “Well… that’s definitely true.” He grabbed Theodore’s hand and allowed the man to lead him through the house.
“When did you change into sweatpants?” Theodore asked.
“My car. I tend to keep a pair in there, same with an extra pair of jeans. Never know when you’re only going to have one chance to go to the gym or half an hour to sleep in your car. Always gotta be prepared,” Russell said.
“Work sounds… very hard on you.”
“I knew what I signed up for, but it’s what I needed to do.”
Russell smiled at him, though it was a little less brilliant than usual. “Another time?”
“Of course.” Theodore pushed open the door to his bedroom and flipped on the light. He stared at the bed, letting out a harsh breath. The only man he’d ever slept in the same bed with was Shane. It didn’t matter that it was a different bed frame, new mattress, different sheets. It was in the same room, the same house, the same position.
“I can sleep on the couch,” Russell said. “I take no issue with that if it’s what you need.”
“No, I still… want to try letting you sleep in here with me. It’s a step I wanna take, and it’s not like it’s sex. It’s just… sleep.”
“Sleep can be stressful and vulnerable. You aren’t weak if you can’t do this tonight,” Russell said.
“I’ll let you know if it turns out I can’t.”
“Good enough for me.”
Theodore nodded and walked into the room, fingers tightening around his cane. Russell followed him, his free hand tucked into one of his pockets. “Do you wanna turn on the nightstand light for me?”
“Sure can.” Russell brushed a thumb over his knuckles before releasing his hand. He turned on the lap, looking back at Theodore. “What would you like me to do now?”
“Of course. Which side?”
One corner of Russell’s mouth lifted. “Sorry. Which side do you normally sleep on?”
“The right side. Uh, the one closest to you,” Theodore said. Russell nodded and walked around the foot of the bed. Without complaint, he sat down on the left side of the bed. Theodore let out a breath and turned off the overhead light. He crossed the room and sat down on the right side of the bed, eyes on the wall.
“I’m gonna pull my legs up onto the bed. Don’t be alarmed,” Russell said.
“Okay.” Behind him, Theodore heard the covers shift and Russell moved onto the bed. “I’m… I’m scared, Russell.”
“I can only imagine.”
“How did you get over the fear of getting close to people?” Theodore asked.
“Well, I acted out first. Stole a couple things from convenience stores. Paid people over twenty-one to buy me alcohol. Shot some plates in the backyard. Skipped school. The works. I had to go to therapy eventually. That helped work through the acting out stuff, and eventually, it helped me work through everything else. I don’t think I genuinely trusted anyone again until I was in college, and even then, I was still pretty apprehensive and closed off.”
“So I have a lot to look forward to, huh?”
“It’s a long process,” Russell said simply. “But it’s a process that’s very worth it.”
Theodore nodded. He leaned his cane against the nightstand and slowly pulled his legs onto the bed. Dropping his head to his pillow, he turned to look at Russell. “I want to get help. Eventually, I mean. For now, I’m making sure Vera gets help.”
“Hey, that’s great,” Russell whispered, rolling onto his side, meeting Theodore’s eyes.
Theodore nodded. “I discussed it with my parents. They’re helping me with the house payments, and since I’m not driving right now, I’m not wasting money on gas. It’s nice to know that I can… get her the help she deserves.”
“Of course. It’s a good feeling, and you deserve to feel good about it,” Russell said. “Can I touch you?” After a moment, Theodore nodded. Russell laid a hand on his cheek, thumb caressing the arch of it. Theodore closed his eyes, reveling in the warmth of his touch. “How do you want to sleep?”
“I usually sleep on my side.”
“Okay. Which one?”
Theodore cleared his throat. “I usually just face the door.”
“Okay. Which way do you want me to sleep? My back to you, or facing you? Because I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
“For tonight… your back to me?” Theodore asked.
“I can do that.”
“Thank you,” Theodore whispered.
“No problem, Theo.” Russell pulled his hand from Theodore’s cheek, rubbing it over his upper arm instead. “I’m gonna turn over now.”
Russell smiled that heart-warming smile of his. “Goodnight, Theo.”
Theodore awoke to one of the most surprising things he’d ever experienced. Russell was still asleep on his side, his back to Theodore, his hands completely to himself. Russell wasn’t like the lead in romance novels and movies. When he made a promise regarding barriers, he didn’t break it.
Theodore gingerly rolled onto his other side, dramatically clearing his throat.
Russell responded with a simple, “Mm?”
“You kept your promise. Stayed facing that way all night,” Theodore said.
After a moment, Russell rolled over to face him, rubbing at one eye with the heel of his palm. “ ‘Course I did. I said I would.”
“They never do in movies. Or books.”
Russell smiled. “I’m all real, Theo. And even in my sleep, I’m not planning on violating your trust like that.”
Theodore couldn’t help the smile that came to his own face. “Thank you.”
Theodore tentatively reached out with one hand and pushed Russell’s sleep-tousled hair back from his forehead. “How about I make you some breakfast before you go to work?”
“Can I help?” Russell asked.
“I was thinking you might wanna take a shower. If not, you… you can help.”
“Shower’s not a bad idea,” Russell mumbled. “Do you need help getting up or anything?”
“No, I’m good. You go ahead and take a shower, and I’m gonna feed my fish and start breakfast.”
“Okay.” Russell pushed himself up on one elbow before leaning over to kiss Theodore’s forehead. “I’ll meet you in the kitchen, Theo.”
Theodore gave Russell’s bicep a quick squeeze. “See you there.”
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