Theodore, in the ballsiest decision he had ever made, had Gina drop him off at the police station after work. With a little help from a very kind detective, he found his way upstairs and to Russell’s desk. Tentatively, he cleared his throat.
Russell lifted his head, tired expression quickly shifting to worry. “A-are you–?”
“I’m okay,” Theodore said, his voice soft. “I came to make sure you were, too.”
Russell pushed himself to his feet and tugged Theodore into a hug. He tensed at the lack of warning, but he wrapped his arms around the detective without complaint. “If I’m not at your house in an hour, text me and tell me to get my ass over there. Can you do that?”
“I-I think so.”
“Thank you,” Russell whispered. He pulled away, eyes on the floor rather than Theodore’s face. “I’m not an alcoholic, but if I don’t go to your house immediately after I’m done here, I’m going to go to the bar. That’s fine on a good day.” His gaze shifted to the shorter man’s face. “Today is not a good day.”
Theodore pulled his bottom lip between his teeth, giving himself a moment to think. “When you have a bad day… you drink?”
“No. When I have a bad day, I want to drink. A lot. I do my best not to. Moderation is… much more difficult when you already feel like you’re drowning.”
Theodore searched the detective’s face, unsure how he was supposed to respond. There were so many things he wasn’t used to. A man openly telling him exactly what was on his mind was one of the many. “Umm…” He cleared his throat. “How about I stay here with you for that hour? And then we go?”
“You have a daughter. You have supper.”
“She’s with my mom. I mean, they’re at my house, but she’s with my mom. I can let her know I’ll be home a bit later than usual.”
“Are you sure?”
Slowly, Theodore nodded. “If you’re having a bad day, you shouldn’t be lonely. That eats away at you just as much as bad thoughts and feelings do.” Pulling his phone from his pocket, he sat down in one of the chairs in front of Russell’s desk. “So I’ll just sit here.”
The smallest smile came to Russell’s face. “Thank you.”
“No… no problem, Russell.”
After Russell got off work, Theodore rode with the detective back to his house. After climbing out of his car, Russell turned to Theodore. “I just need to grab a change of clothes. Wanna come in?”
After a moment, Theodore nodded. He figured there was no harm in seeing more than the already gorgeous exterior of Russell’s house. He pushed open the door and grabbed his cane. With Russell’s help, he climbed out of the passenger seat and closed the door. “I’m excited to, uh… to learn a bit more about your… personal aesthetic.”
Russell chuckled. “I’m not sure I have one. Simple and okay to live in is about all I got.”
“Okay to live in is an acceptable answer.”
“Mm.” At the door, Russell pressed a kiss to the top of Theodore’s head before unlocking the door. He pushed it open and gestured for Theodore to go in first. Though he hesitated, Theodore stepped inside without stammering or complaining. Russell stepped in behind him, quietly closing the door. “Welcome to my blank walls. Original paint, original flooring.” He kicked off his shoes, gesturing to the kitchen. “Original appliances.”
Theodore smiled up at him. “You don’t cook, anyway, so that doesn’t matter much.”
One corner of Russell’s mouth lifted. “Not a bad point.” He cleared his throat. “You can keep your shoes on. Since we aren’t gonna be here forever, that just feels like a lot of unnecessary movement for you.”
“No problem. This way.”
Theodore followed Russell through the house and back to his bedroom. The bed was made, the sheets entirely crease-free. “You really do sleep on the couch when you’re here, don’t you?”
“Most of the time. I was sleeping in bed when you heard that racoon, though,” Russell said. “But I’m usually exhausted when I get home, so I grab a snack, a change of clothes, and then sleep on the couch since I didn’t shower.”
Theodore shook his head. “I’m glad you eat actual meals when you’re at my house.”
“Me, too. Actual food is… very nice.” Russell tugged open one of his dresser drawers and pulled out a sweatshirt. While he gathered the rest of his outfit, Theodore let his eyes roam over the room. Russell hadn’t been lying. The walls were entirely bare. No pictures or paintings. No college degree up on the wall. No awards or articles of his achievements.
“Why don’t you hang anything up in here?”
“Before I got this place, it’d been a long time before I lived in an actual home. I got used to moving around and shit. Guess that’s still stuck in my head,” Russell said.
“Why’d you move around so much?”
“Initially, it was for when my father got a new job.” Russell closed the dresser drawer and tucked his clothes into a duffle bag. “After he was out of the picture, we… couldn’t afford the house, so we moved to an apartment. Landlord jacked up the rent not too long after, so we stayed in a motel for a bit. Things continued back and forth from there.”
“I’m sorry you had to live with that kind of back and forth.”
Russell offered a smile. “Thanks.” He zipped up his bag and lifted it over his shoulder. “Who knows. Maybe I’ll figure out how to truly accept this place as home someday. Guess we’ll see how things go.”
Theodore nodded. “How long have you lived here?”
“Oh… two, three years?”
“What can I say? Old habits die hard.” Gently, he squeezed Theodore’s shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get home so you can relieve your momma of her babysitting duties.”
Back home, while Russell retreated to the back of the house so he could shower and change out of his suit, Theodore headed into the kitchen, where his mom was finishing up supper.
“Hi, Mom.” Theodore cleared his throat as he leaned back against the counter, fiddling with his cane. “Thanks for staying the extra hour. Russell… I don’t know. I think he needed me today.”
“No trouble at all, sweetheart. I love taking care of Vera, even when she’s a little under the weather. Speaking of, chicken noodle soup is almost done. It just needs to be warmed up a little longer.”
“Awesome. Thank you.”
She nodded. “So… Russell. Bad day?”
“This case isn’t treating him so well.”
“Okay.” She cleared her throat, crossing her arms over her chest. “This is not me criticizing Russell. As far as I’ve been able to tell so far, he seems like a very nice man. But cops have a very difficult job, and they all handle bad days differently. If, at any point, you feel uncomfortable or scared with him around, you call or text me, and your dad and I will be here before you even know it. Okay?”
Theodore nodded. “Okay. Thanks, Mom.”
“Of course, baby.” Hands on his cheeks, she pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I love you. Stay safe.”
“I will. Love you, too.”
She smiled. “I’m just gonna go say goodbye to Vera, and then I’ll be on my way. but again, if you were to need anything, you give me a call.”
“Okay, mom. I will,” Theodore promised. She smoothed a hand over his hair before walking out of the kitchen.
By the time the soup was ready, his mom had left and Vera was in the living room, curled up on the couch. Theodore brought in two bowls of soup, handing one over to his daughter as he sat down beside her.
“You’re very welcome, sweetheart.”
Vera pulled her legs closer to herself, holding the bowl in her lap. “Is Russell still here?”
“Yeah. He’s showering, and then he’ll join us here for supper.”
“Awesome.” Vera picked up her spoon, looking over at her father. “So… can we eat on the couch more often?”
“Absolutely not,” Theodore said with a laugh. “Only when one of us doesn’t feel good. Otherwise we’ll continue to eat at the table.”
“If we eat on the couch all the time, our brains will think it’s time for food every time we sit down.”
He nodded. “The brain likes routines. That’s one of them.”
“Cool,” Vera whispered.
He and Vera were almost through an entire episode of her favorite YouTube ghost hunting show when Russell walked into the living room. Dressed in a university hoodie and a pair of sweats, his hair still wet from the shower, he looked a little less sad than he had at the station, but he was still missing a bit of that Russell charm.
“I left a bowl out on the counter for you. Chicken noodle soup,” Theodore said.
“Thank you.” On his way to the kitchen, Russell leaned over the back of the couch and pressed a kiss to the top of Theodore’s head. He came back with a bowl of soup and a can of pop. He sat down next to Theodore and, tentatively, Theodore leaned into his side. Russell cleared his throat, wrapping an arm around Theodore’s shoulders.
“Feel better after the shower?”
“A little bit,” Russell murmured. He nodded toward the television. “What’re we watching?”
“Ezra and Jude. They ghost hunt on YouTube. Curse words are bleeped out, so it’s more or less child-friendly.” He pointed his spoon at Vera. “It’s pretty much her favorite show in the world, and truth be told, I’d much rather be watching this than Dora.”
Russell chuckled. “I don’t blame you. My niece went through a phase where she absolutely loved Sid the Science Kid. I told her the TV was broken when she came to visit for, like, a whole month.”
A surprised laugh escaped Theodore. “You’re terrible,” he whispered.
“Hey, I said she was the light of my life, not that I’d always been honest with her.”
Theodore shook his head. He leaned forward, setting his empty bowl on the coffee table. Settling into Russell’s side again, he rested his hand on the man’s chest. Russell laid his head on Theodore’s, only lifting it for the occasional spoonful of soup or sip of pop.
Even Russell’s bad days were a million times kinder than Shane’s good days. Theodore still had no intention of letting his guard down, but it was nice to know a little bit more of Russell’s range of days and emotions. Somehow, that made him feel… safe.
A/N: I don’t think I’ve stated it in an actual note, but this will be a series! So once I get closer to finishing book one (ahem, 70,000 words and still going), you guys will get to vote for the crime part of book two, maybe the romance part too. We’ll see how it goes!
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