After work, Gina dropped Theodore off at his parents’ place. She had offered to wait for him so he could do nothing more than go in, get Vera, and come back out, but he had politely declined. It was about time he saw his parents for more than a few minutes, anyway.
He knocked on the front door and waited patiently for his father to answer it. A smile took over the older man’s face. “Theo, it’s good to see you.” His dad drummed his fingers against the door. “Coming in? Or do you just wanna grab Vera and head out?”
“I’d love to come in and stay a while, if that’s okay with you.”
“God, are you kidding? More than okay, kiddo. Get your ass in here.”
Theodore smiled faintly and walked into the house. “Thanks, Dad.”
“Of course.” His dad, Jenner Eckart, closed the door. “How’re you doin’, Theo?”
“Not too bad. I’m… managing. I’m healing. I’ve been back at work for a bit, so that’s helping my sanity, if nothing else.”
“That’s good,” Jenner said, his voice soft. “Your mom, uh, told me about that detective. You still seeing him? Or was it a one-time date sort of thing?”
“I’m still seeing him.”
Jenner nodded. “Is he… is he good to you?”
Theodore smiled. “Yeah, Dad, he’s good to me.”
“Good,” Jenner whispered. “Do you think you’d be willing to let me meet him?”
After a moment, Theodore nodded. “Of course, Dad. I… could actually ask him to swing by after work. Since I didn’t drive here, I’m sure he’d be more than willing to take Vera and me home. It’d be a good way for you to meet him, too.”
“I’d like that.”
“Great. I’ll, uh, text him in a bit. For now… hang out until supper?” Theodore asked.
A little smile tugged at one corner of Jenner’s mouth. “I’d love that.” He nodded off to his right. “Come on. Your mom and Vera are in the living room.”
Around eight that evening, Russell pulled into Theodore’s parents’ driveway. Cane in hand, Theodore made his way to the detective’s car and knocked on the driver’s side window. Russell met his gaze just long enough for Theodore to see he looked even more tired than he had when he’d shown up at the house after his crime scene.
Russell rolled down the window. “Hey. You and Vera take your time. I’ll be here,” he said.
Theodore cleared his throat, crossing one arm over the empty space left by the rolled down window. “I was thinking you could come in and meet my dad. If… you aren’t too tired.” Tentatively, he reached into the car and laid a hand on Russell’s cheek. The detective closed his eyes, leaning into Theodore’s touch. “Are you okay, Russell?”
“Long day.” Russell drew in a deep breath, opening his eyes. “Do you want me to meet your dad?”
“Only if you’re in the mood to.”
“Are you testing me again? Seeing… what he thinks of me, too?” Russell asked. “I-I don’t mind if you are. But if you are, I wanna wait until a day I’m… a bit more well-rested.”
Theodore shook his head. “I’m trying to repair a broken relationship by letting him meet you as soon as he asked me to let him meet you. I-I didn’t… Dad didn’t meet Shane until I was already engaged to him, which I did out of spite because Dad would comment on what type of person Shane seemed to be based on what Mom told him. I don’t want that again.”
Russell squeezed his hand. “Okay,” he said softly. “Mind taking a step back?”
Theodore stepped away from the car, fingers tightening around his cane as Russell opened the door and climbed out of the car. He was still in his suit, detective badge pinned proudly at his belt. “For someone so tired… you still look very nice in that suit.”
Russell’s smile was soft and easy. “Thanks, Theo.” He pressed a kiss to the top of the shorter man’s head before closing the door. “You want an arm for extra support? You’re leaning a little heavy on the cane.”
“An arm would be great,” Theodore admitted. Russell held out a crooked arm. After switching his cane to his other hand, Theodore grabbed his arm. Holding onto Russell for support took some of the pressure and pain away from his shoulder. That alone was a nice benefit of getting to hold onto Russell in any manner.
Russell walked him up to the front door, matching his pace to Theodore’s much slower stride without complaint. Theodore opened the door and pulled away from Russell. Instead, he grabbed the man’s hand and gently tugged him inside. “Is your mom gonna ask me if I’m an asshole?”
Theodore shook his head. “She’s in the shower.” He met Russell’s eyes. “I-I’m sorry. I thought you said that didn’t bother you.”
Russell’s smile appeared much more tired in the light of the foyer than it had outside. “It didn’t. It doesn’t. I’m just a little off tonight, Theo. I’m not sure I could handle being called an asshole again today.”
“A, uh, cop-hater eats at the same diner I do. It’s like getting heckled the whole time you’re eating.”
“I’m sorry, Russell.”
Russell shook his head. “It’s okay. It’s not your fault.” He squeezed Theodore’s hand. “You wanna bring your dad in here? Or do you want me to come meet him?”
“Stay here. We can get you to a bed and to sleep sooner that way.”
One corner of Russell’s mouth lifted. “Sure thing, Theo.”
Theodore kicked off his shoes and headed into the living room. “Dad? He’s in the foyer if you wanna come meet him.”
Jenner squeezed Vera’s shoulder as he pushed himself off the couch. “What’s he like?” he asked once he was close to Theodore.
“Tonight? Tired, worn out. He’s working a case. I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s already taking a toll on him,” Theodore said quietly. “So… cut him some slack tonight? He just sounds a lot… more bored than usual, but that’s because he’s tired, not because that’s who he is.”
Jenner smiled. “I won’t judge him on how his tone sounds, promise. Lead the way.”
Theodore nodded and led his dad back into the foyer. “Dad, this is Russell Steele. Russell, this is my dad, Jenner Eckart.”
Russell smiled, sticking out a hand. “Nice to meet you, sir.”
Jenner grabbed his hand and gave it a firm shake. “Jenner’s fine.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets. “I’ve heard some pretty great things about you today, both from T and from Vera.”
“Glad to hear it. I’ve got many great things to say about your son and granddaughter, too. They’re both very, very good people.”
Jenner smiled. “They sure are.” He cleared his throat. “Well, Russell, I don’t wanna keep you too long, but it was really nice to meet you.”
“You, too, Jenner.” Russell met Theodore’s eyes. “Mind if I wait in the car while you get Vera around? Or do you need help? I’m okay either way.”
“I’d like independence on this one. Still gunning for that father of the year award.”
One corner of Russell’s mouth lifted. “You’ve already got it, Theo.” He reached out and squeezed Theodore’s shoulder. “I’ll be in the car.”
“I like him,” Jenner said as soon as Russell closed the door.
Theodore chuckled softly. “Yeah… me, too.” Hesitantly, he stepped forward and wrapped his father in a hug. “Thanks for hanging out here today, Dad. It was nice to actually… sit down together for the first time in a while.”
“My pleasure, T. It was good catching up with you. You’re… you’re welcome to come over here anytime, T. You and Vera.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Theodore stepped away from him. “Mind helping me gather up her things?”
“Not at all. Come on.”
“Did you ask Russell about Halloween?” Vera asked.
Theodore nodded. “I did. He wants to come with us. Daddy just… needed more time to decide if I was ready to have him there with us.”
“Because of Father?”
“Yeah, because of him.”
“I won’t be mad if he doesn’t come with. It’s up to you, Daddy.”
Theodore smiled. “Thanks, sweetheart.” He held out her pajama shirt. “Arms up.” Like she usually was, Vera was incredibly helpful as he pulled her shirt on over her head and helped her change into her pajama pants.
“Is Russell staying the night again?” Vera asked as Theodore tucked her in.
“Planning on it. Why?”
“If I have a bad dream, where do you want me to go?”
“You can always come into my room, sweetheart. Always. I’ll come in here with you or we’ll go into the living room.”
“But… your hip.”
Theodore shook his head. “I’ll worry about my hip, sweetheart.”
“Okay,” Vera whispered. “Love you.”
“I love you, too. Night, Vera.”
Theodore leaned down and pressed a kiss to the girl’s forehead before leaving the room. He closed the door most of the way, leaving the hall light on. Eventually, he’d have to go out and buy her a nightlight, as well as one for the hall, but for now, the hallway light would suffice. The hallway light was familiar, comfortable. He’d worry about changing that later.
In his room, he found Russell already on the bed, his back to the door, just as Theodore had asked of him the last time.
Theodore changed into his pajamas in the bathroom and brushed his teeth. He flipped off the bathroom light and sat down on the bed. “Are you awake?” he asked, his voice quiet.
“Do… do you wanna talk about the case you’re working?”
Russell remained silent for several seconds. “I don’t want to lay all my shit out on you, Theo. You’ve got enough goin’ on without me piling homicide onto you.”
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but I don’t want you not to just because you think it’s what’s best for me,” Theodore said. “You… have already talked me through so much, Russell. I’d be an asshole if I didn’t at least try to do the same for you.”
Russell cleared his throat. “Brother in blue.”
Theodore turned to look at Russell’s motionless form on the bed. “You… You’re working a cop’s death?”
“Yeah. Someone gunned him down on the sidewalk. He retired a few years ago. He tried to get away after the first shot. But the monster chased him down and kept shooting. Six to the back.” A pause. “H-his name’s Vince. He was the closest thing I ever had to a dad.”
Theodore lay down on the bed, turning onto his bad hip so he could wrap an arm around Russell. “I’m sorry, Russ,” he whispered.
Russell wrapped a hand around his forearm rather than responding. After several minutes of silence, he added, “I just had coffee with him a week ago. Told him about you and Vera, about our date at the restaurant. He was so excited for me.” A pause. “God, I miss him so fucking much.”
Russell did as told, meeting Theodore’s gaze with teary eyes. Theodore fought down every fearful nerve in his body and pulled Russell’s head to his chest. The detective broke, twisting the material of Theodore’s shirt in his fingers as his shoulders shook.
Theodore closed his eyes, combing his fingers through Russell’s hair. Russell would do the same if Theodore was the one in desperate need of a good talk or cry. The least Theodore could do was try to return that favor of kindness. Even if it made every muscle in his body tense. Even if it made his body so stiff that the pain jolting through his hip increased ten fold. Russell deserved the hug. Russell deserved to be held. Russell deserved to be… comforted. Theodore would do the best he could.
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