Russell pulled his car into Theodore’s driveway and shifted it into park. Letting out a slow breath, he dropped his hands to his lap and turned to look at Theodore. “Did you have a nice time tonight? I know it was just supper, but I didn’t want to add too many other things on top of it and risk stressing you out or anything of the sort.”
Theodore turned away from the window, a little smile gracing his face. “I really enjoyed myself, Russell. Thank you for giving me that,” he said. “And… you? I hope I wasn’t too boring.”
Russell chuckled. “Theo, I’ve sat in a dark, quiet room with you so you could manage to sleep for a while, and I wasn’t bored. You aren’t a boring person.”
“Yeah, I’ll just have to take your word on that one.”
“Well, even that works for me. Long as you know I think you’re plenty interesting.”
“I… think the same of you,” Theodore said.
Russell smiled softly. “Thank you.” He cocked his head to the side. “Do you want me to stay in the car, or may I walk you up to the house?”
“My mom’s inside.”
“Does she not know you went on a date?”
“No, she does. But I don’t know if you really wanna meet my mom.” Theodore winced. “That sounds terrible. My mom’s a wonderful person. I just mean, like, isn’t meeting the parents a milestone of some sort?”
“It can be, usually with supper, in my experience. But if you don’t want me to meet her right now, I’ll begrudgingly sit in the car.”
Theodore smiled faintly, and Russell couldn’t help but smile right back at him. “Yeah, okay, I’ll let you walk me back up to the house.”
“Awesome.” Russell shut off the car and pushed open his door. “Stay there? I’m gonna be gentlemanly and open your door, too.”
Theodore snorted. “Yeah, okay. I’ll behave and wait right here.”
“Not behaving,” Russell said. “I don’t have control over you. I don’t want control over you.”
After a moment, Theodore nodded. “Okay. By my own choice, I’ll wait right here,” he said.
“Perfect,” Russell whispered. He slid out of the car and closed the door. He was doing everything he could to balance his behavior. He truly had enjoyed supper with Theodore, but he had felt like he was holding a lot back. He hadn’t wanted to pressure him into any conversations or actions.
He just wanted the night to be fun and simple for Theodore. Calm. Relaxed.
He never wanted Theodore to feel like he was like Shane in any way, shape, or form.
Russell rounded the car and pulled open the passenger door. He held out a hand, which–after a moment–Theodore accepted. He got out of the car, touching his cane back to the ground. “How’s your hip?” Russell asked as he closed the door.
“Good. It’s… it’s all right. Those chairs were pretty nice.”
“Good. I did my best to make sure of that.”
Theodore snorted. “Thanks for not lying when you do weird, potentially manipulative things to get something. It’s… not something Shane would’ve been honest about.”
“In that case, I have one more honesty bomb for you.”
“Is it a good honesty bomb?”
“I would say… no. It’s super sad that I can’t cook worth a damn.”
Theodore cocked his head to the side. “So you paid for the food you brought over?”
“Psh, ‘course not. I don’t break promises. I did, however, help two of the detectives at the station with paperwork specifically so they’d make me food to bring to you and Vera. It’s not money. It doesn’t count.”
“That’s still totally cheating,” Theodore said. He smiled. “But it’s a good loophole. Congrats.” He elbowed Russell in the side. “And I’d say the food was well worth the trade, right?”
“Oh, one hundred percent. Though, it wasn’t the food. It was the supper. You and Vera. That was… that was what made it worth the trade,” Russell said, hoping to God that wasn’t crossing any boundaries with Theodore.
Theodore smiled at him. “Your sweetness scares me,” he whispered.
“I promise you it will not turn on you. What you see here is exactly what you get. I’m not a… I’m not a violent bastard. I never will be,” Russell said.
Theodore wrapped him in a hug. Russell let out a slow breath, embracing the man as he closed his eyes. “This is all so… strange, new, and difficult for me.”
“Oh, I can only imagine, Theo.”
“I-I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I enjoy being around you. I enjoyed having you at the house for supper. I really enjoyed having super with you tonight. But every single time you do something for me, I’m waiting for you to hold it against me. Every time you’re nice to me, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop or for you to hold it over my head. I-I don’t know what to do, here.”
“Do you want to keep seeing me?” Russell asked.
“Yes,” Theodore whispered.
“Then we’ll figure it out.” Russell rubbed a hand down Theodore’s spine. “We’ll figure something out to help calm your nerves. Just… give me some time. I’ll figure it out.”
“No problem, Theo.” Russell cleared his throat. “What do you say we head on up to the house?”
Theodore nodded, taking a step away from him. “Are you tired?”
“After my mom leaves, do you want to stay and watch a movie?”
“I would love to,” Russell said softly.
A tiny smile turned up one corner of Theodore’s mouth. “Really?”
Theodore nodded. “Okay. Let’s go… introduce you to my mom, then.”
“Are you sure you’re still all right with that? I won’t be mad if you don’t want me to meet her. I’ll take you up to the door, and then I’ll come back to the car and wait until she leaves to come back in for a movie. As long as you feel safe and comfortable, it doesn’t bother me,” Russell said.
“I want you to come inside. She hated Shane from the very beginning. She always said there was something undeniably off about him. I wanna know what she thinks of you,” Theodore said.
Russell snorted. “Comforting. Come on, then.” He held out a crooked arm. After simply staring at it for several seconds, Theodore looped his own arm through it. Helping to support Theodore, Russell walked him up to the house. The man still had his cane with him, but Russell was pretty sure the majority of Theodore’s weight had been shifted over to his Russell’s arm rather than the cane.
Russell was fine with that. Whatever helped Theodore feel more stable and confident in his step.
Theodore opened the front door and stepped inside. Russell followed suit, closing the door behind them. A woman walked into the foyer as they were kicking off their shoes, seemingly surprised to see that Russell had come inside. “Hey, Mom. This is Russell, the detective I went out with tonight,” Theodore said.
Russell stuck out a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
She smiled, accepting his hand. “You, too. I’m Bonnie.”
“Good to meetcha, Bonnie.”
She nodded, dropping her hand. “What kind of detective are you, Russell?”
“That… must be terrible. Working murders?”
“It definitely isn’t easy,” Russell agreed, “but it allows me to give justice to the wronged, and it allows me to give people comfort on what is probably the worst day of their lives. Knowing I’m doing a good job at it makes the darkness of it worth it.”
Bonnie nodded, crossing her arms over her chest. “Are you an asshole?”
“What? I’m asking the man an honest question.”
Russell chuckled softly. “Don’t worry about it, Theo. It’s okay.” He cleared his throat. “As far as I know, I’m not an asshole. Since I graduated college, the only people who have honestly called me an asshole have been criminals when I’m arresting them. I–personally–think that’s a pretty good asshole to not an asshole ratio.”
“Hmm. We’ll see. I’m keeping my eye on you.”
“Please do. I don’t plan to harm Theo or Vera, but if I ever do, whoop my ass. I would deserve it,” Russell said.
Theodore grabbed his hand, tugging him back a tiny step before releasing his hand. “Okay, Mom. You’ve had your fill for the night, yeah?”
“For now. I plan to interrogate the heck outta this boy if you ever bring him for supper,” Bonnie said.
“Yeah, okay, Mom.”
“Well, it was nice meeting you, Russell, but it appears I’m being shooed out.”
“If you’d stop being embarrassing, I wouldn’t have to shoo you,” Theodore said.
Russell chuckled. “It was good to meet you, too, Bonnie.”
“Can you go wait in the living room, Russell? Please?” Theodore asked.
Russell headed into the living room and sat down on the couch. He heard the front door open and close, and a few minutes later, Theodore came back inside and sat down beside him. “So?”
“I’m sorry about my mom,” Theodore said.
“Sorry? You don’t have to be sorry, Theo.”
“God, of course not. Your mom loves you. She’s just trying to make sure you’re okay, that you’re safe. You don’t have to be upset with her for that, either. I’m sure not.”
Theodore shook his head, clasping his hands between his knees. “Shane hated my mom, absolutely hated her. Every time she did something he didn’t like, I… was expected to apologize.”
“Well, to me? You don’t have to apologize for someone else’s behavior. You can’t control your mom. She’s not, say, a well-trained dog. And again, even if you could control her, I’m not upset with her. I’m not angry at her for protecting her son, not at all,” Russell said. He reached out, brushing a few of the longer strands of Theodore’s hair back from his forehead. “The only thing you’ll ever have to truly apologize to me for are your actions, your words. And I don’t mean the things Shane probably made you apologize for. I mean actual, genuine, terrible things. Okay?”
“Okay,” Theodore whispered. Almost cautiously, he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Russell, resting his head on the detective’s chest. Russell hugged him back, closing his eyes as he gently dropped his chin to rest on the man’s head. “Do you still wanna watch a movie?”
“If you aren’t tired, I’m still definitely game for that,” Russell said.
“Then… I’m also game for that,” Theodore said. He lifted his head, eyes locking with Russell’s. “Russell?”
“Are you… sure you want to… be seeing me?”
“Pretty sure, yeah. Why?”
“I’m… damaged goods.”
Russell’s heart beat just a little faster, his temperature growing just a little warmer. “You’re not damaged goods. That’s the kind of disgusting bullshit people like Shane say to keep their victims in line, to keep them from leaving,” he said. “You aren’t damaged goods. You’re a human being who has been through hell. You’re a human being who, despite that hell, is going out of his way to raise a wonderful daughter. You’re doing great, Theo. You’re not damaged, you’re just healing.”
Theodore watched him for a long moment before letting out a breath. “God, I wish I could bring myself to believe that.”
“I know. And someday, maybe you’ll be able to. That wound’s still a little too fresh for you to simply… be over it. Not to mention that I’d be a monster if I just expected you to be over it. You have to heal, and that can be a long process. I’m not going to sit here and shame you for it or tell you to hurry it up. You have to take the time you need to heal, and I’m not going to force you to do that any differently.”
“I… I wish it wasn’t so hard to believe you’re genuine.”
“I understand why it’s hard for you. I won’t push that, either.”
Theodore sighed, though it didn’t seem to be out of irritation. “I know I asked you in for a movie, but… do you mind if I hug you just a little longer first?”
A little smile tugged at one corner of Russell’s mouth. “I don’t mind at all,” he said. Theodore leaned over and wrapped him in a hug again. Russell returned it, resting his chin on the man’s head. “I know you’ll never really let your guard down, and that’s okay. I respect and understand that. But I do want you to know that if you ever need me for… just about anything, I’m here. Okay?”
“I’ll do my best to remember that.” Theodore cleared his throat. “Can you… lean back? Against the arm rest?”
“You want to cuddle?”
“Maybe.” Theodore pulled away. “Is that okay?”
Theodore offered a smile. “Great. Umm… what do you wanna watch?”
“Anything that piques your interest.”
“You’re a big help.”
Theodore snorted, reaching out to grab the remote. Russell shifted, leaning back against the pillow propped up on the arm rest. Once Theodore had turned on the television and switched it over to Netflix, he lay down, hesitantly dropping his head to Russell’s chest.
After a moment, Russell wrapped an arm around Theodore’s shoulders. “You’ll… let me know if my arm is too much?”
“I’ll let you know,” Theodore said.
“Awesome,” Russell whispered. He turned his head toward the television, watching Theodore flip through the movies and shows they could choose from. “You really don’t care that I like women, too?”
“No. It’s not my business to care about the people or gender you find attractive. You like what you see in me–I guess–and I like what I see in you. That’s all that matters to me. I mean… on your end. I kind of also have to take in if you’re an asshole, how you treat those around you, how you act in public versus in private… You get the point.”
“I do,” Russell assured. “Still, thank you. Since I opened my eyes to the part of myself that also likes men, I’ve had a hard time finding a guy that doesn’t care and who wants to do more than sleep together. Same with the women I’ve been with since I came out. I can get one or the other, but finding both qualities in one person hasn’t been easy for me.”
“All the good ones must’ve been sucked up into relationships this year.”
Russell chuckled. “Yeah, that must be the case. Thank God you’re out of one, then, huh?”
Theodore tilted his head back against Russell’s chest, offering a little smile. “Yeah, thank God. I… I still can’t believe I’m out, you know?”
“I can only imagine.”
“Y-you know how I said Vera had a bad dream? That’s why I didn’t respond?”
“Yeah. You didn’t really want me to care about that at the time.”
“I know. I’m sorry about that.”
“You don’t have to be.”
After a moment, Theodore nodded. “Her bad dreams are about Shane. She has a lot of them where he comes back to the house, comes back to hurt me.”
“Does he ever hurt her in the dreams?”
“No, thankfully. I-I never let him… I never stopped him from hurting me. I couldn’t. But I didn’t let him lay a hand on her. I think I would’ve killed him if he had tried. Despite everything she ever saw, I think that keeps her from seeing him hurting her in the dreams, and for that, I’m thankful,” Theodore said. “Do you… do you think that fear will ever go away? The dreams?”
“I don’t know. She’s young, and there’s a chance it could fade, at the very least. But I… I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I figure I’ll have to try and take her to a psychologist who can help her and who can answer that question. I should… probably do that sooner than later.”
“Does your insurance cover it?”
“The first two sessions, yes. Outside of that… no.” Theodore cleared his throat, shifting on the couch. “But I’ll figure it out. She’s my baby girl. I’d do anything for her.”
“You’ll definitely figure it out,” Russell agreed. “Theo?”
“Did you really enjoy our date?”
“I did. Why?”
“Just making sure. I want to know that… you’re comfortable, you know? That’s important to me.”
“Well, I am currently very comfortable,” Theodore said.
Russell chuckled. “Good.” He laid his free hand on Theodore’s cheek, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. Theodore let out a soft sigh, though his body was tense. Russell understood why that conflict of emotions battled within the man, and he had no intention of drawing attention to it, not unless Theodore did it first. “You go ahead and choose a movie or TV show. We’ll watch whatever you want to.”
“Are you sure?”
Theodore nodded against his chest, flipping through their options again. “Have you ever seen Nurse Jackie?”
“I have not. Would you like to watch it?”
“Always wanted to. Shane hated hospital shows.”
“Well, good news, I love hospital shows. Long as you promise not to watch any episodes without me, fire it up.”
Theodore laughed. “Deal.”
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