Theodore awoke to an empty bed. He rolled onto his back and sat up with a yawn. In the bathroom, he could hear the shower running. “Monday,” he whispered. Of course. Russell had to go back to work. Theodore had time off until Wednesday morning, something he had planned ahead of time so he could spend at least some of Vera’s winter break with her for more than supper each day.
Scrubbing his hands over his face, he did his best to bite back another yawn. Though he felt well-rested, the part of his brain that liked yawns seemed to disagree. He wrapped a hand around his cane and rose to his feet.
By the fish tank, he couldn’t help but smile. He still couldn’t believe Russell had gotten him a tank or the fish to go in it. He couldn’t believe the detective had kept them for a month to get them assimilated to the tank. Christ, most days, he could hardly believe Russell existed at all. Even the days where they exchanged little more than good morning and good night texts were more than he had ever gotten from Shane.
In many ways, Russell still seemed too good to be true. Theodore did his best not to focus on that lurking feeling in the back of his mind. He did his best not to let his mind convince him that Russell was hiding something from him, but it was difficult. As far as he could tell, it always would be difficult.
But he planned to keep working at it regardless.
After feeding his fish–his little goldfish included–he rapped two knuckles against the bathroom door. “How much longer are you gonna be in there, Russ?”
“Just rinsing off now.”
“So long enough for me to change out here?” Theodore asked.
“Yep.” The water shut off. “I’m gonna dry off, but I’ll stay in here until you’re dressed.”
Theodore let out a breath, one corner of his mouth lifting. “Thanks for understanding, Russ.”
“Always a pleasure, Teddy.”
After getting dressed, Theodore gave the a-okay for Russell to come back into the room. With a towel wrapped around his waist, Russell walked over to his duffel bag on the floor. Theodore had grown relatively used to Russell’s post-shower shirtless figure, but the scar on his back was something he hadn’t noticed before.
Russell looked up at him. “What’s what?”
“The scar on your back.”
“Ah. Remember the, uh, car accident I told you about?”
“The one in high school? Yeah.”
Russell nodded. “The scar’s from the reconstructive surgery they did on my lower spine. I’ve got ones near my hips and on my legs too.”
“Jesus. Do… do they ever bother you?”
“Like, confidence-wise? Not really. They’re, umm, different than the scars you have from your surgery, y’know?”
“Yeah.” Theodore knew exactly what Russell meant. Russell knew for a fact that the kid driving up on the sidewalk specifically to hit him with his car hadn’t been his fault. Theodore, however, had always believed winding up in the hospital was his fault. If he hadn’t dated Shane, if he hadn’t married Shane, if he hadn’t responded to Shane’s drunken arguing that night. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have fallen down the stairs. He wouldn’t have needed a hip replacement. He wouldn’t have the scars.
Yes, he knew exactly what Russell meant.
Russell’s curled fingers beneath his chin pulled Theodore from his thoughts. “Where’d you go?”
“Thinking about my surgery scars and… why they’re different.”
“It will never be your fault.”
“Part of me knows that.”
Russell smiled that soft little smile of his, the one Theodore had only ever seen him use around him and Vera. Theodore’s heart always fluttered at the thought that maybe he and Vera were the only ones who ever got to see that calming and reassuring smile. “I can’t pretend there will come a day where every single part of you knows it wasn’t your fault, just based on how I feel after everything with my father, but I can tell you that we’re gonna work damn hard to convince as many parts as we can that it’s not your fault.”
“You’re sweet. Not that that’s anything new.” Theodore leaned up and kissed him. “Get dressed and… meet me in the kitchen to help with breakfast?”
“Gladly. Be with you in a few.”
Theodore patted Russell’s bare chest, hand lingering for just a moment. Sometimes, he wished he could do more with Russell than sleep in the same bed with him or kiss him. He figured Russell would like something more, given that the man used to sleep around with men and women in between his homicide cases at work, but Theodore couldn’t deliver.
He wasn’t sure when he’d be able to or if he’d ever be able to deliver again.
“You disappeared again, got all distant-looking.” Russell brushed a thumb over his cheek. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, I’m just… thinking.”
Theodore let out a breath, bowing his head. “It’s a little, umm… embarrassing.”
“That’s okay. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.” Gently, Russell lifted Theodore’s head again. “I’ll meet you out in the kitchen when I’ve got more than a towel preserving my dignity, okay?”
Theodore chuckled. “Okay. See you in a few.”
True to Russell’s word, he made it out to the kitchen before Theodore even finished pulling everything out of the refrigerator. “What’re we making this morning?”
“Scrambled eggs with peppers and hashbrowns.”
“Oo, an interesting turn from pancakes.”
“I want to start getting back into actual cooking again. I still want to take it easy on the hip, even though it’s much better than when we met, but… I don’t know. Actual cooking is some sense of domestic normalcy for me. The fresh peppers are a step in the right direction.”
Russell smiled. “Well, I’m all for domestic normalcy. Peppers it is.” He pressed a kiss to Theodore’s lips, reaching behind him to pull a knife from the block. “I’ve got the peppers covered, yeah?”
Theodore nodded, a small smile tugging at either corner of his mouth. “I was thinking much of the same.”
“Awesome. Let’s get this breakfast party started, huh?”
After Russell left for work, Theodore retreated back to the kitchen to wash dishes with a little help from Vera. She sat on the counter, taking the clean dishes from him and carefully placing them in the dish drainer.
“When do you go back to work, Daddy?”
“And… then I stay with Grandma and Grandpa while you’re at work?” Vera asked.
“Mmhmm. Unless you have plans to stay home and clean the whole place for me or something.”
She giggled. “Maybe next Christmas break, Daddy.”
“Okay, I guess that’s reasonable. I can wait another year.”
“Are you excited to go back to work again?”
“I like being able to work, but I also like being able to spend time with you.” Theodore smiled. “I’m glad I planned ahead to make sure we’d have a couple weekdays together after Christmas. That’s enough for me right now.”
Vera nodded. “Me too.” She took a plate from Theodore, staring at it for a moment before setting it with the others. “Do you ever think about what happens when Father gets out of prison?”
Theodore stiffened, clearing his throat as he did his best to relax. “Umm… sometimes. Do you?”
“What do you think… is going to happen?”
“I don’t know. Him… coming back?”
Theodore handed the last dish to his daughter and rinsed off the washcloth. “I, umm… Before he gets out, I planned on having us move. I don’t want it to be that easy for him to find us.”
“We can do that?”
He nodded, shutting off the water. He grabbed a towel from the counter. “Of course we can. Heck, baby girl, if things keep going well, by then, we might be living with Russell.”
“Really,” he confirmed. He wasn’t something he allowed himself to think about often, but he knew there was truth to it. Russell wanted to settle down. He wanted a partner, a family. Theodore didn’t know how long it would take before moving in with Russell was something he was comfortable with–nor how long it would take before Russell felt it was okay to talk about–but he sure as hell hoped it didn’t take ten whole years. He was damn sure even Russell wouldn’t wait that long.
“Russell… would want to live with us?” Vera asked.
“I can’t speak for him, but I’m pretty sure Russell would be ecstatic to live with us.” Theodore smiled, reaching out to brush Vera’s hair back behind her ear. “Russell cares so much about you and me. He wants us to be safe and happy. When Shane gets out of prison, Russell will make sure absolutely nothing happens to us. I will make sure absolutely nothing happens to us. I made sure Shane never hurt you, right?”
Vera nodded. “Yeah, you kept me safe.”
“And I always will.”
Vera smiled. “Okay, Daddy.” She jumped off the counter. “We can go play on the Xbox?”
It never ceased to amaze Theodore how quickly Vera could switch between topics, regardless of how scary or serious one was in comparison to the other. “Yeah, sweetheart. We can go play on the Xbox. Let me change back into comfier clothes while you pick a game?”
“Okay. You’ll be okay?”
A smile tugged at one corner of his mouth. “I’ll be fine, sweetheart. My hip’s a lot better, remember?”
Though her eyes shifted to his cane, she nodded. “I remember. I’ll be in the living room.”
“All right, baby girl. I’ll catch up in a few.”
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