Russell opened his eyes as Theodore shifted for the seventh time in the last two minutes. “You okay?” Russell asked, his voice raw.
“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me,” Theodore said.
“You sound like you’re in pain.”
“I’m always in pain.”
Russell sniffled, pulling away from Theodore. “Roll onto your good side, Theo. Your hip needs your comfort, too.”
Theodore sighed. He laid a tentative hand on Russell’s cheek. “You’re in pain, too. Why does mine get to take priority?”
“Because your pain means you need to roll over so you don’t further injure your hip. Mine means I have to feel… empty for a while.”
“That’s… that’s not a good enough answer.”
“It’s the only one I got.”
Theodore shook his head. “Switch me sides.”
“Lay on this side of the bed.”
“Umm… are you sure?”
“Yeah. Just… don’t get used to sleeping on that side.”
One corner of Russell’s mouth lifted. “I won’t. You want me to stand up and switch sides?”
“You can… you can climb over. J-just… no touching.”
“No touching. Promise.” Russell pushed himself up and climbed over Theodore, turning his head to meet the shorter man’s gaze. “Now what?”
“Lay down on your side, facing that way,” Theodore said, pointing to the door.
Russell did as told, closing his eyes as Theodore scooted closer and wrapped an arm around him. “Aha, I see. Now you can lay on your good side.”
“Now I can comfort the hip and you.”
“Thank you,” Russell whispered.
Theodore stayed silent for only a moment before stealing Russell’s phrase of choice, “No problem, Russ.”
Russell awoke to an empty bed. He wasn’t surprised, to say the least. Theodore was incredibly quiet when he got out of bed, despite the cane. Tragically, Russell had a feeling that quietness came as second nature because of Shane. Russell had been forced to develop that habit, too, though when he was much younger. Walking on eggshells, especially when the abuser was a light sleeper, had been a necessity.
He only hoped that, someday, Theodore would feel safe enough to not be so quiet.
Russell pushed himself up, closing his eyes as he stretched his neck to one side. Theodore’s bed was–oddly–more comfortable than he was used to, and his neck hadn’t quite adjusted to that yet. He figured he’d find it damn perfect eventually, assuming that Theodore kept inviting him to spend the night.
With a sigh, he climbed out of bed. After a quick restroom break, Russell washed his face and changed into his suit from the day before. In the kitchen, he murmured a soft, “Morning,” before pressing a kiss to the top of Theodore’s head.
“Morning,” Theodore said. “Sleep okay?”
“Yeah. Thank you.” Russell cleared his throat. “I’m gonna head into work a little early. I have a theory I’d like to work on, and the sooner I find out who shot Vince, the better.”
“Okay. Can you stay long enough for me to finish these pancakes? Then you can take a couple for breakfast.”
“I can do that.”
“Great,” Theodore whispered. “Coffee’s fresh. You can steal my travel mug again, if you want.”
“Borrow. I’ll happily borrow it.”
Theodore chuckled. “Sure, Russ. Borrow.”
“Thank you.” Russell gave his shoulder a squeeze. “Jesus. You weren’t kidding about this shoulder.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty tense.”
“If you’re okay with me massaging that, I’ll get it back to functional.”
“You… would do that for me?”
“Yeah. Free of charge,” Russell said.
Theodore smiled. “You’re… you’re adorable.”
“It’s working for you,” Theodore said. “If… you wanted to come over again tonight? Supper, maybe a movie with Vera before she goes to bed?”
“I think I can manage that.” Truthfully, Russell didn’t want to be alone tonight, just like he hadn’t wanted to be home alone the night before. He had practically thanked God when Theodore had called him that evening to ask if he wanted to come pick him and Vera up and spend the night.
Still, he hated that he didn’t want to be alone. Russell was used to burying himself in a case every single time he managed to get put on one, but this time, attempting to bury himself in the case made him crave comfort. It was a balance he wasn’t used to, well, balancing.
“Hey, umm…” Theodore cleared his throat. “Vera asked me about Halloween last night. If you’re still up for going with us, I’ve decided that… I’m up for that, too.”
Russell couldn’t help but smile. “I’d still love to come along.”
“Great,” Theodore whispered. “I-I don’t know if it interests you–Shane hated the idea of it and… and wouldn’t let it happen–but Vera and I, we’ll be dressing up. D-do you want to match?” he asked.
“Shane… is an asshole,” Russell said softly, leaning back against the counter.
“Anyway, I would love to match, but it totally depends on what a dork I’d be.”
“Vera wants to go as Toad.”
“Yeah… Blue Toad, from Super Mario Bros.” Theodore shook his head, an adorable smile on his face. “I’m being forced to be Mario, because he’s short, but Vera was hoping you’d be Luigi.”
“Umm, I will one hundred percent go as Luigi. That lanky green bastard knows how to jump.”
Theodore laughed. “I know absolutely nothing about that game, so I’m going to have to take your word for it.”
“I could bring it over sometime. Or… maybe you and Vera could come over sometime. If we play the one on the Wii, I’ve got three remotes.”
“I will… take that into consideration. Thank you.” Theodore reached out and touched his cheek. “Don’t move?”
Theodore leaned up and kissed his cheek. “Thank you for being you, Russell.”
“Ah, no problem. I enjoy being me, so… looks like we’re both happy.” Theodore only smiled at him. Russell pushed away from the counter. He grabbed Theodore’s travel mug from the cupboard, clearing his throat. “Needed curiosity. Do you have anything specific you want me to wear for Halloween, then? Like, do I need a mustache?”
“I like your face a lot without one.”
Russell chuckled. “Me, too. Are you wearing a fake one?”
“No. Vera gave me permission not to.”
“Then we’ll be the mustache-less plumbers. Totally works for me,” Russell said.
“No problem.” Russell filled up Theodore’s travel mug and snapped the lid into place. Clearing his throat, he leaned back against the counter. “Depending on how today goes, I might be late for supper. So… Don’t make you and Vera wait for me. If I’m not here, just go ahead and eat. Okay?”
“Are you sure?” Theodore asked.
“I’m sure. I don’t wanna starve you guys out.”
Theodore chuckled softly. “I don’t think we’d starve, but still, I appreciate the heads-up.” He laid a hand on Russell’s chest, and after a moment of hesitation, Russell lifted his own hand to cover it. “I can’t even imagine what being alone is like for you right now. So while this case is ongoing, I-I’m going to use it as an excuse to invite you over all the time so I don’t have to feel like I’m depending on you. Is that something you’re okay with?”
Russell searched his face before nodding. “Yes.” He cleared his throat as Theodore pulled his hand away. Russell crossed his arms over his chest. “For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t consider you dependent on me. So what, you sleep better when I’m in the house? That’s not being dependent. You take care of Vera on your own. You cook on your own. You clean on your own. I’m not buying your groceries or paying your bills. Heck, you aren’t even letting me drive you most places. You aren’t dependent on me, Theo. You just feel safe with a cop in the house.”
“I… guess that’s true,” Theodore said quietly. “It’s still… difficult for me.”
“I know. Reasonably so. You went through something incredibly traumatic, Theo. You have every right to feel… conflicted about who makes you feel safe. I’ll never hold that feeling of conflict against you.”
Theodore looked up at him. “I hope I’ll be able to believe that someday.”
Russell offered a smile. “You and me both, Theo.” He turned his head at the sound of footsteps. Vera, still in her pajamas, padded into the kitchen, a stuffed animal hugged to her chest. “Hey, sweetheart.”
“Hi, Russell.” Vera crossed the room, wrapping a hand around the bottom hem of Theodore’s shirt. “I don’t feel good, Daddy.”
Theodore pressed the back of his hand to her cheek, then her forehead. “You’re a little warm. You can stay home. I’ll… I’ll call Grandma and Grandpa, see if one of them can stay with you.”
“I wanna go to school. I just need you to fix the warm feeling.”
Theodore smiled. “I’m sorry, baby girl. It doesn’t work that way.” He smoothed a hand over her red curls. “How about you go back to bed, and I’ll call Grandma while I make a couple pancakes for Russell to take for work.”
“Really?” Vera asked.
“I think it’s for the best, baby. Especially if you wanna be well enough to go trick or treating on Halloween.”
“Okay.” Vera gave Theodore a hug and took a small step back. “Night, Russell.”
“Night, sweetheart.” Once she was out of sight, Russell cleared his throat. “Sorry.”
“I called her sweetheart.”
“I kinda figured that was your cop voice, so I figured those were your cop words, too.”
Theodore nodded. “Then it doesn’t bother me. Vera likes you, and… so do I. So, uh…” He cleared his throat. “So it’s fine.”
Russell smiled softly, leaning over to kiss Theodore’s temple. “I like you, too.”
“Surprisingly, I knew that one.”
Russell chuckled. “Good.” He rubbed a hand up Theodore’s arm. “I’m gonna go on a little walk around the house, if that’s okay with you. You can make pancakes without further interruption, and you can call your mom without me intruding.”
“I appreciate that. Thank you, Russell.”
The detective flashed a smile. “No problem, Theo. See you in a few.”
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