Russell awoke to the vibration of his watch. The nights he spent with Theodore, he muted the loud beeping. On the off chance the man was still asleep, Russell wanted him to stay that way for as long as possible. That morning, unsurprisingly, the other side of Theodore’s bed was empty.
Russell let out a slow breath and pushed himself up on his elbows. The clothes Theodore had laid out over the chair the night before were gone, and the bathroom light was off. He’d already fed the fish and showered, so there was a grand chance he’d been awake for over an hour. Russell looked down at his watch. Six AM. At most, Theodore had gotten three hours of sleep. Since the end of November or so, those three-hour nights were few and far between.
He sat up and raked a hand through his hair. Sleep for Russell had been shitty since Christmas, but that was par for the course. It’d been that way since his undercover days. Theodore’s shift, though… Well, that concerned him.
After pulling a pair of sweatpants on over his boxer briefs, Russell made his way out to the kitchen. Theodore stood in front of the stove, all four burners going. One corner of Russell’s mouth scrunched up. He crossed the room and wrapped his arms around Theodore.
“Good morning,” Theodore greeted.
“Morning, Teddy.” Russell pressed a kiss to Theodore’s shoulder. “Looks like you’re having a feast in here.”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“I figured. Wanna talk?”
Theodore turned around, and Russell stepped back. Theodore grabbed the sleeve of his hoodie and jerked it up past his elbow. “What’re these?”
Russell cleared his throat. “How, umm…?”
“You fell asleep on the couch. Your sleeve was rolled up. I noticed them when I went to wake you so we could go to bed.”
“You, umm, you don’t have to worry about them, Theo.”
“Really? Because I’ve watched enough TV to know they’re track marks.”
Russell stepped back until he found the counter. He grabbed the edge of it and gave it a tight squeeze. The pressure against his palm and the burn in his knuckles were bad signs. This wasn’t a dream. Theodore had found out before he had the chance to tell him. “They’re old.”
“How old?” Theodore asked. “I let you into my house, Russell. With my daughter. With my child. I let a drug addict—”
“Recovered,” Russell said through his teeth.
Theodore practically jumped back, hitting the dials for the stove. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Russell shook his head so fast it made his head spin. “No. No, no. Y-you have every right to be worried, okay? You have a family. You and Shane, you… You deserve to be concerned. I just…” He let out a shaky breath. “This isn’t the conversation I thought we’d be having when I woke up. I was prepared for finding you a therapist, not talking about fucking heroine.”
Theodore swallowed roughly, but he nodded. “How old?”
“Years. I got addicted while I was undercover. I had a hard time coming out of it. When I was sober, all I could think about was the shit I’d seen or done. But I haven’t touched it since I got sober, Theo. It’s been years. I have my damn sobriety chip in the overnight bag I bring. I take it everywhere I go.”
Theodore searched his face for what felt like an eternity. “Can I see it?”
“Yeah, yeah. O-of course. Give me just a second.”
Russell made his way back to Theodore’s bedroom, both hands buried in his hair. Jesus Christ, he couldn’t believe this was happening. A brand new year was going to start with his boyfriend discovering he’d been harboring a drug abusive past like the dirty, shameful little secret it was? Shameful that he’d caved to the abusive personality coursing through his veins. Shameful that he’d shot it up again and again, knowing he’d need it even more than the time before once he came down from the high.
Shameful that he’d told so much to Theodore yet continued to hide the needle scars with long-sleeved shirts and hoodies.
Russell squatted down and pulled the chip from the front pocket of his bag. Before he could even stand up, Theodore laid a hand on his shoulder.
“I could’ve found a better way to ask you,” Theodore said, his voice quiet.
“I could’ve not hidden it from you.” Russell held up the chip. “Coulda not shot up fucking heroine.”
“They put you undercover in a gang full of rapists, murderers, and drug slingers. What were you supposed to do? Stick out like a… like a narc?”
Russell let out a breath. Much as he hated it, he didn’t exactly have a good response to that one.
Theodore took the wooden chip and slowly lowered himself to the floor. “What’s… this on the back?”
“The Serenity Prayer.”
“That thing they do on TV for AA meetings?”
Russell nodded. “Yeah. They do it in real ones too.”
“So… are those what you attend?”
“No. I, umm… I attend NA meetings.” Russell licked his lips. “I’m addicted–I was addicted to narcotics. I wouldn’t have a chip if it was AA. I still drink. I’m just not… decidedly addicted to it.”
Theodore laid a hand on the side of Russell’s head and guided it to his shoulder. “Wood for… five years?”
“Yeah. Like the…”
“Wedding anniversaries,” Theodore finished. “That’s a nice idea.”
Russell nodded, closing as his eyes as Theodore smoothed a hand over his hair. “I was gonna tell you, Theo. I swear to God, I was gonna tell you. This is still just… so new, and I just thought… I don’t know. I didn’t wanna risk losing you and Vera so damn soon.”
Theodore stayed silent for a long moment, but his hand never stopped moving. Russell managed to bring himself to find comfort in that. “I think that fear is reasonable. I don’t know how much you knew about Shane or the filing, but there were about three years at the end where he was going out with coworkers to do lines of coke at their parties.”
“No, I-I didn’t know that. I’m so sorry, Theo.”
“It’s okay. It’s not your fault.” Theodore cleared his throat. “I worry that I’m able to say this with such confidence,” he said through a little laugh, “but I know you’re being genuine. I know you really did have every intention of telling me. I’m sorry I saw them before you were ready.”
Russell shook his head. “Give me a day or two. I’ll be damn glad you saw ‘em.” He couldn’t help but smile. “I won’t have to wear long sleeves once it stops snowing.”
“Oo, wonderful silver lining.” Theodore moved his hand to Russell’s shoulder. “Now I get to see your arms for more than a few seconds when you’re wrapped in a towel.”
“Mm, what I’m hearing is that you love the look of me in a towel.”
“Just because I can’t bring myself to have sex doesn’t mean I don’t know when my boyfriend’s hot and still a little bit wet from the shower.”
Russell chuckled, lifting his head. He laid a hand on Theodore’s cheek. “I’m gonna tell you somethin’ a little scary, Theo.”
“I love you.”
Theodore blew out a sharp breath before swallowing. “You, umm…? Me?”
“You,” Russell whispered.
“That is a little scary,” Theodore whispered back. “What do you want me to say?”
“You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to. You don’t have to say anything at all. I just can’t keep biting it back every single time that you say something or do something or smile in a way that I’m absolutely in love with.”
Theodore leaned in and kissed him. “I don’t know when I’ll ever be ready to say those words to someone again, but in the meantime? I love hearing them.”
Russell smiled. “We make a damn good pair, then, ‘cause I love saying ‘em.” He brushed a thumb over Theodore’s cheek and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. “What do you say we put my chip back in its little pouch, and then you and me go finish whatever four-course meal you’re making for breakfast?”
Theodore laughed, shoving Russell’s shoulder. “Deal.”
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