Russell lifted his head as he shrugged on his coat. “Hey, Loo.”
His lieutenant nodded. “I have a genuine question for you, and I want you to answer it truthfully. We’ll test out your answer for a bit and reassess afterward.”
“If you have the option to work by yourself or with a partner, which would you prefer?”
“I-I’m actually getting the choice?”
Again, the man nodded. “Yes. You did a damn good job working Vince’s case, no matter how hard it must’ve been for you. Finding out two of our own cops planned to kill him and your partner…” He cleared his throat. “You did well despite… all of that. If you believe you’ll work better one way versus the other, then I want to stick with the way you think will go over better for you.”
“I think I want to continue working without a partner. I don’t know that I’d be able to focus on a case if I was working with someone. I… I think I’d be too concerned with making sure I wasn’t growing attached to them and with making sure they weren’t going to die on me,” Russell said.
“I figured that would be the case. I’ll let you continue working without one, and we’ll look at this again in a couple months, okay? As long as your performance stays up and you don’t ram our insurance premiums all the way up, I’ll let you make that choice every time.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome, Steele. Enjoy your evening.”
Russell nodded. “You too, sir.” Once the man had walked away, Russell zipped up his coat and stuffed his phone into his pocket. He had supper plans with Theodore and Vera, and having good news to share about work was exciting. It had been hard to get excited about anything at the stationsince Vince’s murder. The man, a former cop with Rustin PD, had been a mentor and father figure to Russell. Losing him had been hard, and adjusting to the station with the knowledge that he’d never see his favorite retired detective inside the building ever again had been… difficult.
Having good news to share was good. He’d take little, miniscule victories over bad days any damn day of the week.
After showering and changing out of his suit, Russell drove over to Theodore’s place. They often flip-flopped on whose house supper took place in, but Mondays were almost always Theodore’s place. Russell figured Theodore liked the guaranteed consistency of it. That, he could understand without any issue.
Russell knocked on the door and took a small step back, waiting. It wasn’t long before the door opened and his eyes landed on Vera. He smiled. “Hi, sweetheart.”
“Hi, Russell.” She stepped back, allowing him into the house.
“How was your day with Daddy?” Russell asked as he closed the door.
“Good! We maked brownies together and played a game together and drawed together.”
“Wow, busy day, huh?”
Vera nodded, grabbing his hand. “I have so many drawings to show you.”
He chuckled. “Let me see if your daddy wants any help with supper first, okay?”
“Okay.” Vera let go of his hand and ran back to the living room.
Russell smiled to himself, shaking his head. Over the past two months, Vera had become one of his favorite people. She made him feel like the father he had wanted to be for years. She was an absolute sweetheart, always wanting to show him all her drawings, always wanting him to read to her, always wanting him to play with her dolls with her. She made his heart nearly as happy as her father did.
In the kitchen, Russell stepped up behind Theodore and wrapped his arms around him. “Evening,” he greeted, pressing a kiss to the shorter man’s shoulder.
“Evening. How was work?”
“Good. Spoke with Loo. He asked me if I wanted a partner or not, left that decision up to me so it wouldn’t be forced on me instead.”
“Hey, Russ, that’s great.” Theodore wiped his hand on the towel on the counter and pushed his fingers into Russell’s dark hair. Russell closed his eyes, giving himself a moment to simply revel in Theodore’s touch. “Do you know why he’s letting you choose?”
“Because of how well I did with Vince’s case.”
“Good. You deserve at least some recognition for your work with that. You were so darn strong while you were solving that case. I’m still so proud of you.”
Russell sniffled, a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“No problem, Russ.” Theodore patted his head twice before reaching out to wash his hand. “Does your mom have a cute nickname for you?”
“Like… my mom calls me Teedie.”
“Mm. That’s cute.” Russell lifted his head, resting his chin on Theodore’s shoulder. “Sully. Mom calls me Sully.”
“Does… anyone call you Rusty?”
“Can I call you Rusty?”
Russell smiled, shifting just enough to kiss Theodore’s cheek. “You sure can. I like you a little too much to get too picky on what you call me.”
Theodore leaned his head against Russell’s for a moment. “Are you spending the night?”
“Not tonight. I’ve got a game thing planned with Andrew and Emey. Game launches at midnight.” Russell nuzzled the crook of Theodore’s neck with his nose, earning a soft chuckle from the auburn-haired man. “You like gaming with anything that isn’t, like Zoo Tycoon or Minecraft?”
“In college, sure. I played some shooters with my roommates.”
“If you ever wanna invest in a PS4, I could hook you up with the gaming crew. Adult interaction and conversation without ever leaving the house.”
Theodore laughed. “That does sound nice. Maybe someday… soon? I’ve been saving a lot of money on gas since Gina won’t let me pay her for it.”
“She just wants you to worry about bigger things, like Vera and keeping clothes on her back and a roof over her head. I bet she’ll let you pay her back someday.”
“I hope she will. I don’t wanna feel forever indebted, best friend or not.”
“I sure can’t blame you there, Teddy.” Russell pressed a kiss to the top of his head and stepped away from him. “Do you want help with supper?”
“I want… to handle as much of it as I can on my own. But, uh, I’ll let you know if I need help?”
“That works for me. I’ll be in the living room with Vera, okay? She’s got some drawings she wants to show me.”
“Okay. Thank you.” Theodore leaned up and kissed him. “My hip’s sore today, so I’ll you call in when food’s ready to help carry plates, if that’s okay.”
“That’s more than okay. Prioritizing your hip is always going to be okay with me. Call me back whenever you need me. I’m not far.”
Theodore’s pale, freckled cheeks pinkened. “I will.”
Russell pressed a kiss to his forehead and headed into the living room. He sat down on the couch beside Vera and kicked out the footrest. “All right, sweetheart. What kind of cool drawings do we have today?”
Vera snuggled up to his side and opened her little sketchbook on his lap. “I’m gonna show you the one Daddy and I did together first.”
He chuckled, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “Go for it. Show them in whatever order you want, sweetheart. You have my full attention.”
Russell rinsed off the last plate and set it in the dish drainer. He shut off the water as he heard Theodore’s steps behind him. “Hey.”
“Hi.” Theodore wrapped his arms around Russell, resting his cheek between Russell’s shoulders. “Thank you for washing dishes.”
“No problem. Vera go to sleep okay?”
“Mmhmm.” Theodore slid his hands up to Russell’s chest. Russell smiled, drying off his own hands before laying one over Theodore’s. “She was really happy that you let her show you all those drawings.”
“I love her little sketches. I’d let her flip through that damn sketchbook for hours if she wanted.”
Theodore stepped away from him, allowing him to turn around. Theodore pressed his hands to Russell’s chest again. “This thought scares me, but I think you should know it. You… are acting like the second dad she never got to have, and that means the world to me. It means so much to Vera too. I-it scares me that when I saw you in that sweater on Christmas, my first thought was that you looked like the family man I always wanted, but I want you to know it.”
Russell smiled, heat rushing up to his face. He laid his hands on Theodore’s cheeks, gently tipping his head back until their eyes met. “I’ve been looking for a family person for as long as I can remember. Once I figured out I liked men too, including them in the equation made things… scary and complicated, simultaneously narrowing my options and expanding them. But for what it’s worth, I want you to know that you’re the family person I’ve been looking for this whole fuckin’ time.”
Theodore leaned up and kissed him, hands wrapped around the front of his shirt. Russell let out a soft sound, one hand sliding down to Theodore’s neck. Theodore pulled away like he’d been burned, a hand jumping up to his throat.
“S-sorry. I’m…” Theodore cleared his throat, taking a step back. “I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Teddy. You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for. I am sorry for touching your neck. It didn’t even cross my mind that could be one of your triggers. I’ll make sure to avoid that in the future. I’m sorry.”
Theodore nodded. “I-I need a shower. Enjoy g-game night.”
“It doesn’t release until midnight. I can stay till then, Theo. Or if you need me here, I can cancel, put it off till tomorrow.”
Theodore shook his head, backing into the island. “Nope. No, no. You go, have fun. I just need a shower.”
“Okay.” Russell stepped to the side, giving Theodore the space he needed. “I’m sorry, Theo.”
“N-not your fault.”
Russell fought every urge he had to pull Theodore into a hug or wipe the lone tear from his cheek. He knew what it was like to have a trigger set off by someone you cared about, and he knew it was far from pleasant. “I’ll go. Text or call me as soon as you’re ready, okay?”
Theodore nodded. “Mmhmm. N-night, Russ.”
“Night, Theo. Take care of yourself.”
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