Just as he and Vera finished setting the table, Theodore heard Russell’s car pull into the drive. He smiled down at his daughter. “Do you wanna go let Russell in?”
“Yep! Make sure it’s him before I open the door?” Vera asked.
Theodore nodded. “Always double-check.”
“Okay. Back in a second, Daddy.” It wasn’t long before the front door opened. “Hi, Russ!”
“Hey, sweetheart. How’re you doing this afternoon?” Russell asked.
“Good. Daddy and I have been baking all day. We got a thing of cookies ready for you to take to work with you!”
“Wow, really? It’s like you guys read my mind and knew I was seriously craving some cookies.”
“You’re always craving cookies.”
“You know, you’re not wrong,” Russell agreed. “Come here, you monster. You’re lettin’ all the cold air inside.”
Theodore lifted his head as Russell walked into the kitchen, Vera on his back, her arms wrapped loosely around his neck. Theodore smiled. “Good afternoon.”
“Afternoon.” Russell squatted down, and Vera dropped down from his back. “So, we got everything here? Need help carrying anything out of the kitchen?”
Theodore shook his head. “Vera helped me carry everything to the table. Unless you want something other than water, everything’s here.”
“Water’s good for me.” Russell pressed a kiss to Theodore’s temple and pulled out his usual seat at the table. “M’Lord?”
“I’ll whack you with the cane.”
Russell smiled, teeth on full display. “I’d like to see you try.”
Theodore snorted. “I’m sure you would.” He patted Russell’s hand and slid into the seat. He hooked his cane on the back of the chair as Russell and Vera sat down at the table. “So… how’s work?”
“Slow. I’m a paper pusher right now. I’ve been assigned a cold case, but it hasn’t moved forward for over a decade. Everyone in Rustin knows who did it, but their trial resulted in a not guilty verdict. It’s been an open case ever since.”
“So what do you have to do?” Theodore asked.
“The same thing all the other detectives have had to do. Check the witness statements, speak with any of them that are willing to speak, go over the evidence again, so on and so forth.” Russell stuck a forkful of spaghetti in his mouth. With the back of his hand covering his mouth, he added, “I’m not gonna make progress on it or anything. We can’t try the guy again without new evidence, and there is no new evidence. Christ, this is the second time I’ve been assigned this specific case.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Russ. In the least disturbing way possible, I hope something comes along that allows you to be less of a paper pusher.”
Russell chuckled. “Thanks, Teddy. In the least disturbing way possible, I hope you’re right.”
New Year’s landed on a Sunday, and at midnight, Theodore moved to straddle Russell’s thighs and kissed him. A soft moan fell from Russell’s lips, his hands sliding up Theodore’s back. Theodore pulled back after what felt like an eternity and leaned his forehead against Russell’s. “I’m sorry I can’t do more with you, Rusty,” he whispered. “I-I’m sure you’ve started off a couple new years with something more than a kiss.”
“I have no problem waiting until you’re ready, Theo. What I have or haven’t done to start off a new year doesn’t matter. What you and I do is all that matters. Comparing it to my past relationships or flings doesn’t do anything to help us,” Russell said. He laid a hand on Theodore’s cheek, thumb caressing the arch of it. “Teddy, I care a whole lot about you, and the last thing I want is for you to feel like you’re robbing me of something in this relationship. Us dating doesn’t mean I’m entitled to sex. It doesn’t mean you’re required to give it to me. I like you. You can throw sex at me when you’re ready for it.”
“What if I never am?”
“Then you never are. Teddy, I’m on meds that greatly inhibit my libido. So are you. I don’t have some insanely high sex drive that needs to be satisfied every damn day. I get all the intimacy and more that I need from you. If you never want to do more than this—”
“I want to. I think. But I can’t. That’s the problem.”
“Sorry. I’ll rephrase,” Russell said softly. “If you can never do more than this, that’s okay with me. We don’t need to be naked and screwing for there to be intimacy here. I mean…” He waved his free hand between them. “Look at us now, Teddy. You don’t think this stance is intimate?”
Theodore looked down for a moment before clearing his throat. “I, uh… I-I guess it is.”
“Exactly. We’re fully clothed. That doesn’t have to change for there to be intimacy here. Sex isn’t the only form of intimacy, Teddy. It’s important to me that you know I believe that with every fiber of my being.”
“I believe you,” Theodore assured. “Gina told me that same damn thing, you know. That, uh, that intimacy isn’t only sex. But I guess it’s still a hard pill to swallow.”
Russell’s brow pulled together, that look of pure understanding on his face. Theodore loved that expression more than he ever thought possible. Someone else understood him, understood his feelings, understood his triggers. It had been downright impossible to believe in the beginning, and even now, it seemed unbelievable more often than not.
How the hell was it possible for people like Russell to exist when people like Shane were allowed to exist too?
Theodore blinked, eyes focusing on Russell’s face again.
The detective cocked his head to the side. “Where’d you go?”
“I still can’t believe you’re real. I still find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“I’m not perfect, Theo, I promise you that. I’d be an alcoholic if I didn’t have to make sure my mom and siblings were taken care of.”
“You can say that all you want, Russ, but you have more self-control than you give yourself credit for. I was right there with you while you were working Vince’s murder. You wanted to die, Russ. Genuinely wanted to die. And you were still in control of the majority of your alcohol intake.”
“I had to be. I still had to pay the bills, make sure everyone was safe, had a roof over their head. I… I had to be.”
“ ‘Had to be’ is something we tell ourselves to prevent ourselves from being allowed to fully enjoy our accomplishments,” Theodore said.
“Who told you that?”
“He’s a smart guy,” Russell said with a soft chuckle. “He’s probably right about that, you know. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s dumbing down my achievements or accomplishments. It was drilled into my head as a kid that nothing I did would ever be good enough. I’m sure you know all about that too.”
Theodore nodded. “I do. It’s unfortunate that that’s the sort of thing we relate on.”
One corner of Russell’s mouth lifted. “I know. We relate on all kinds of other stuff, though, so it’s okay.”
Theodore smiled, thankful for the change in topic. “What kind of stuff?” he asked, arms tightening around the back of Russell’s neck.
“Well, we both really like Nurse Jackie. We both love a good book.” Russell smiled, reaching up to brush Theodore’s hair from his forehead. “We both think Vera is by far the greatest little girl in the world.”
“She really is, isn’t she?”
Russell nodded. “She gets that from you, Teddy.”
“Being the greatest… little girl in the world?”
The detective snorted, shaking his head. “No, the qualities that make her the greatest. Curiosity, bravery, kindness, imagination, generosity… You name it. She got it from you.”
Theodore shook his head before kissing him. He had no words left to say anyway. There weren’t enough ‘thank you’s or ‘you’re amazing’s built into the whole damn world for Russell Steele.
He pulled away, hands moving to Russell’s face. “You really wouldn’t care if we never had sex?”
“I mean, like, never ever. Like, if we were old and sitting on the porch while our great-grandkids played in the yard, you wouldn’t look over at me and resent me for never being able to trust you enough for sex?”
A soft smile tugged at either corner of Russell’s mouth. “Theo, you just painted me a life where we grow old together and have kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. In your ‘worst case scenario’, I’m already living the dream.” He rubbed his hands up and down Theodore’s arms before stopping just short of his shoulders. “Sex is not going to be what turns me off of this relationship. It’s not a requirement for this relationship. I enjoy sex. I can admit that, and I’m willing to admit that. But even when I was single and occasionally screwing around, it was just that. Occasional.”
“Even… even with your partner? Before she started dating Sam?”
“Even with her, yeah. At most, we slept together two or three times a month, and normally out of boredom and lack of case progress.” Russell squeezed Theodore’s arms. “I don’t need sex to be happy, Theo. I promise you that.”
Theodore searched the detective’s genuine eyes. “And you’ll tell me if that ever changes?”
“You’ll be the first to know.”
Russell smiled. “Well, the second to know. I’ll be the first. So to you being the second to know if anything changes? I promise.”
“Good enough for me,” Theodore whispered. He pressed a kiss to Russell’s lips before leaning their foreheads together. “I can’t believe you really do seem to be in this for the long haul. It blows my mind every single time I think about it.”
“It blows my mind that you’re in it too,” Russell said.
“Absolutely. I’m so used to be shoved aside because I don’t immediately tell people I’m bisexual, like the fact that I also enjoy a woman’s body or that I also enjoy a man’s body is some disgusting sin I’ve personally created against every straight or gay person in the world. But you don’t care about that. You don’t care who or what I like. You only care that I like you, and I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around that. It means the world to me, reminded me that the people that throw a fit aren’t the majority of our community. They’re just an unfortunately vocal part of it.”
“Every group has its assholes.”
Russell chuckled. “Exactly.” He laid a hand on Theodore’s side, fingers toying with the seam of his shirt. “What’s our plan for today?”
“We could go to sleep or watch Netflix. I don’t have to work in the morning, and you… took the day off, right?” Theodore asked.
“I did. Just in case you wanted to do anything, and if not, that’s also okay. No pressure either way.”
Theodore smiled. Russell’s ‘no pressure’ relationship took a world of weight off his shoulders. Sure, he was still nervous and waiting for something to go wrong, but the idea that there was no pressure for him to jump into anything he wasn’t ready for was a relief in many forms. “I think we should start our new year with you and me curled up on the couch with something on Netflix.”
Russell chuckled. “Sounds like a plan to me, Teddy. Let’s go browse.”
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