A/N: Sorry for the delay! I seemingly believed yesterday was both Tuesday and Wednesday, but not Wednesday enough for Books and Badges. I’m blaming it on being sick for two weeks, lmao. Anyway, enjoy!
It was nearly seven in the morning when Jamal left. Now, nearing eight o’clock, Russell had finally fallen asleep on the couch. His head rested on the pillow on Theodore’s lap, his arms folded up near his face. Theodore combed his fingers through Russell’s hair, his eyes focused on the television. An old movie played on screen, but Theodore wasn’t paying nearly enough attention to know anything about it. His mind remained stuck on everything Jamal Pitman had discussed with them.
He took some comfort in the promise that they would all be kept safe, but it didn’t take all of the worry away. It didn’t make everything feel okay again, much as he wished it did.
Theodore blinked, eyes shifting to his daughter’s freckled face. “Hey, baby girl.”
“Hi.” Vera climbed onto the couch, snuggling into Theodore’s side. She laid a hand on the side of Russell’s head. “Still asleep?”
“He had a late night, fell asleep not too long ago.”
“Oh.” Vera shifted, pulling her feet up onto the couch. “Are you hungry?”
“We can eat whenever you’re ready,” Theodore said.
“Russell has nothing in the house,” Vera whispered.
Theodore chuckled softly, smoothing a hand over his daughter’s hair. “I brought over a carton of eggs and a box of pancake mix. Mm, and your chocolate milk. I brought that too. We’ll be okay.”
“You’re the best, Daddy.”
“Thanks, baby.” Theodore patted her knee. “Let me move Russell’s pillow to the couch here, and then we’ll make some pancakes and eggs, okay?”
“Okay.” Vera jumped off the couch and grabbed Theodore’s cane, waiting patiently. His hands under the pillow, Theodore slid off the couch. He lowered the pillow, managing not to wake up Russell. Instead, his detective snuggled further into the pillow. Theodore smiled, smoothing a hand over Russell’s hair. He still couldn’t believe that he felt safe around Russell, that he felt comfortable around him.
But he was damn glad that he did.
Turning, Theodore accepted his cane from Vera. “All right, sweetheart. Let’s go make some breakfast.”
After helping drop the last of the pancake batter on the pan, Vera smiled. “Hi, Russell.”
“Morning, sweetheart.” Russell wrapped his arms around Theodore, resting his chin on the shorter man’s shoulder. “Didn’t mean to fall asleep on your lap. How’s your hip?”
“My hip’s fine, Russ. How was your… power nap?”
“Mm.” Russell shrugged. “I’ll sleep more after food.”
“A great idea,” Theodore said. “Vera suggested we go to the park today. Wasn’t, umm, sure how you felt about that.”
Thankfully, even Russell’s tired brain picked up on the real reason his opinion was being asked this time around. “How about we play in the backyard later instead? I don’t have any cool swingsets, but I have a basketball hoop. You and me could shoot hoops, and your dad can watch without having to sit with a bunch of strangers. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds fun!” Vera wrapped her hands around the counter, leaning forward. “You’re going to play with me?”
“Unless you’d like to shoot hoops all by yourself.”
“No! I want you there too.” Vera reached over and grabbed Russell’s arm, little fingers wrapped around his wrist. “Promise you’ll play ball with me?”
“I promise,” Russell said softly. He squeezed her hand, and for the briefest of moments, nervousness struck Theodore. It was like a bolt of lightning, striking its target out of nowhere and then disappearing from sight. For the millionth time since he had started dating Russell, he reminded himself that Shane had never gone out of his way to show any sort of care for Vera. He hadn’t wanted to change diapers, feed her, prepare a bottle, change her, bathe her. As she got older, that hadn’t changed. He hadn’t wanted to help her learn to walk or speak. He hadn’t taken her to school.
Hell, he never would’ve dreamed of calling her ‘sweetheart’, either. To Shane, that would’ve been far too close to claiming her as a daughter of his own, and that had always been the last damn thing he wanted.
Vera flashed that adorable little smile of hers, dropping her hand back to the counter. “Daddy, will you ever be able to play basketball again?”
“Not the running or jumping part. It risks, umm, the new hip moving into the wrong place, more or less. But eventually, I can do the throwing the ball part of it.”
“When will your hip be better?”
“Umm… a while. It can take up to a year to fully heal after surgery.”
“And that’s only if your dad starts taking better care of said hip,” Russell said.
“Can we help him?” Vera asked before Theodore could even defend himself.
“We can try. We need to get him back into physical therapy, for instance. Just… a version he’s more comfortable with.”
“Like a version at home?”
“Yeah, exactly like that. We just need to be there to remind him to do the exercises. Maybe we can even do them with him, give him some good motivation.”
“Oo, I like that!” Vera decided.
Theodore couldn’t help but smile. Russell wanting to help as well as being the one to suggest the ways they could help meant more to him than the taller man would probably ever be able to imagine. “I’d have to at least go back once to figure out most of the exercises and stretches again. I went a couple times because I didn’t have a choice, but I don’t remember much of anything.”
“After this case is over, I’ll look up as many of the stretches as I can find. We’ll go from there,” Russell said. “If that works for you, of course.”
“That works for me.”
Russell smiled against his shoulder before pressing a kiss to it. “Then that’s what we’ll do, soon as all this is over.”
Theodore reached back and touched Russell’s cheek. He knew ‘this’ referred to more than just the case. It referred to the bodyguards, the possible dangerous Russell was in, the possible danger Theodore could be in by association.
Despite the danger, despite the guards, despite the corruption Russell was possibly working around, Theodore took comfort in the way Russell had chosen to word the sentence. As ‘soon’ as it was all over. Not ‘if’ it was ever going to be over. In Russell’s mind, it was a guarantee.
That served as some much needed comfort for the shorter man, comfort he never planned to take for granted.
Theodore tilted his head back against the couch as Russell stopped behind him. “You okay?”
Russell cleared his throat, eyes on Vera as he handed Theodore the burner phone Jamal had given him before leaving the house.
“What’s that?” Vera asked.
“Boring work stuff, sweetheart.” Russell pushed himself away from the couch, walking around to where Vera sat in the rocking chair. “What’re you drawing?”
Theodore watched them for a moment before looking down at the text message Russell had left up on screen for him.
Jamal: Derek has a younger cousin working in Narcotics. Last year, he busted someone with over ten pounds of cocaine in their house. Six of those pounds went missing from evidence lock-up. Cousin’s partner took the fall, turned up dead a month later. Unsolved, but I can already tell you he was killed by the gang the cocaine was meant for.
Jamal: Stolen cocaine has since hit the streets. Derek and Bonnie have since come into quite a bit of money. I’m sure you can connect the dots on the connection there.
Jamal: Do let me know if you need further help, Russell. I have strings I can pull anytime you need me to, especially if it means getting justice for Vince.
Russell came back around the couch, laying a hand on Theodore’s chest. “They killed my partner and Vince so they could get rich selling cocaine,” he whispered, his lips brushing the shell of Theodore’s ear. “How in the hell… am I supposed to move forward with that knowledge?”
“I don’t know, Russ,” Theodore whispered back. He set the phone down, reaching up to bury his fingers in Russell’s hair. “Are you okay?”
“No.” Russell gathered the material of Theodore’s shirt in his fist. “I’m so sorry I dragged you into this, Theo. So fuckin’ sorry.”
“Hey,” Theodore whispered, turning his head toward Russell’s. “Russ, you didn’t know about any of this when you told me about the case. You didn’t drag me into anything.”
Russell sniffled before letting out a long breath. “What do I do?”
“You aren’t used to this, Russ. You’re used to just… doing it yourself, doing it with your partner. I-I think you should talk to Jamal and see what he suggests doing to move forward from here.”
“Not a bad idea.” Russell lifted his head, pressing a lingering kiss to Theodore’s temple. “Thank you. I just… I don’t know. Lost my head for a few.”
“Russell, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard this is for you. You have every right to lose your head for a few, especially if that just means it prevents you from figuring out your next step in the case. But you’re welcome. Well… no problem, actually.”
“You’re the best,” Russell mumbled. He kissed Theodore’s shoulder, dropping his hand to grab the cell phone. “Thank you.”
“No problem, Russell. You come back in here if you need to, okay?”
“Okay.” Russell squeezed his shoulder and walked back out of the living room.
“Daddy?” Vera asked.
“Is Russell still going trick-or-treating with us?”
“That’s the plan. Why?”
Vera shrugged, her eyes on her little sketchbook. “He’s still doing work stuff. I don’t want him not to do work stuff for me.”
“Russell’s not like Shane. He wants to…” Theodore cleared his throat. “Russell is very happy to see us when he’s not working, and he’s even happier to see us when he is working. He wants to see us, wants to go trick-or-treating.” He smiled as Vera finally met his eyes. “He’s excited for it, Vera. It’s a break from work he desperately needs, I promise.”
Vera smiled. “Okay, Daddy.”
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