Notes: (Yes, I did change the title three minutes after posting. Sorry.)THIS SHOW. I was absolutely, one hundred percent sure that they would both make it to next week alive—and then they sold it so well that I still nearly had a heart attack watching. How'd y'all feel?
He'd really thought—
No, that wasn't true. He hadn't had time to think.
It had been all adrenaline, the silver glint of a slashing knife at the periphery of his vision, his panicked heartbeat in his ears, fumbling for whatever his hands could land themselves on because he was all he had—
Couldn't get out—
There was a scream in his mouth but no one to hear it—
Stupid stupid stupid—
And then, impossibly, miraculously, Sharon was there, and Rusty shouted for her—
Help me help me help me—
There was a gun in her hand and fierceness painted across her face.
And there was the sharp crack of gunfire that he flung himself to the ground to avoid, even as he realized that he wasn't dead.
He'd lost track of Sharon—she'd fired back, vanished into the bedroom. The condo was suddenly full of shouting SIS officers who dragged him away from the windows towards the relative safety of the doorway, which was great and all because he was really, really glad not to be dead, but where was Sharon?
He blinked, and she was there again, coming towards him from the bedroom. Her lips moved, forming words that he could hardly hear for the ringing in his ears.
"Rusty." She stood before him, her hands gripping his arms at the elbow, her voice a whisper that reverberated in his head louder than any other sound in the room. He clung to that like a lifeline as she guided him towards—not the couch, not the couch—towards the armchair.
His knees buckled beneath him and he collapsed into the seat with Sharon still hovering over him. "Rusty," she whispered again, her fingers cool when they brushed against his cheek and gentle when they stroked his hair. "Breathe."
Her voice was still quiet, still smooth, but it was a command. Rusty found himself following it, inhaling great gasps of air to fill his barely breathing lungs. He hunched his shoulders, doubling over, elbows on his knees and his face in his hands with tears smarting and burning his eyes.
"Good," she murmured. "Again."
Rusty sucked in another breath and kept his head down. He stared down at their feet and blinked, blurting out the most inane thought because it was the only one in his head.
Sharon's fingers stilled on his hair, but she didn't lift her hand from his head and he felt the pressure behind her touch shift when she took a swift, shaky breath. "I'm sorry," she said, and beneath the strain in her voice, he heard the faintest trace of levity. "Next time, I'll bring shoes instead of a gun."
Rusty raised his head enough to see her face. Her lip quirked, just a little, enough to offset the unhappiness and relief that dominated her expression and a choked snicker bubbled up in Rusty's throat and burst free. He doubled over again because there were no bones in his limbs to support him, laughing and laughing until his stomach threatened to heave.
Sharon crouched in front of him, her hands curling protectively around his. Her fingers were burning warm, and only then did he realize how cold he was. She squeezed until it hurt, and Rusty said nothing.
"My God," she breathed, squeezing tighter yet. "Rusty. I—I thought—"
She caught herself there, breath hitching, and he raised his head to find her watching him with wide, worried eyes that he couldn't meet. Some form of coherent thought had returned to him, enough for him to know that now he was going to have to tell her what he'd done, that this was all his fault.
Sharon froze suddenly, her head coming up the rest of the way. There was a vague sort of confusion that flickered across her face as she glanced from side to side, before it cleared, and Rusty realized at the same moment that she did that they weren't alone.
"With me," she murmured, and rose. She pulled him with her and held him steady. She searched his face carefully, though what she was looking for, Rusty couldn't say—he felt just as shaky the moment she dropped his hands and gave him a slow nod as he had the second before. "Let's get you out of here."
He sat, ashen-faced and trembling, and he told her everything.
Sharon sat across from him and listened in speechless horror. She kept her hands folded white-knuckled in her lap. She couldn't let him see her own fear, not when his voice was wavering and choked with barely repressed tears that he was struggling not to shed in front of everyone.
But—this man strolled right on up to Rusty and casually asked for all the information he needed to kill him, and Rusty had told him. Volunteered up every last little detail without so much as thinking twice.
Sharon closed her eyes.
When Andy called, that bubble of cold fear that lived in the pit of her stomach all these months finally burst. It leached into her blood as she tore down eight flights of stairs in her bare feet with her heart in her throat, and for a moment, just for a moment, when she was on one side of the door and he was on the other, screaming for her to save him and she couldn't get to him—
If she clenched her fingers any tighter, they would shatter.
The door had not proven itself to be an impenetrable barrier, in the end, but a moment was enough.
Never, ever again.
Sharon glanced around the assembled crowd, keeping one eye trained firmly on Rusty just for good measure. Just to reassure herself that he would vanish the moment she looked away. Julio was part of the SIS detail, but the others showed up sometime in the aftermath of Rusty's rescue and the resulting chaos. Now they were all crammed into her living room along with Lieutenant Cooper and his SIS officers, listening somberly to Rusty's tale with gray faces.
He just thought that, after last week... well, he wasn't in any real danger then, and he just thought that...
"Please don't be mad." Rusty watched her with large, pleading eyes. "I'm sorry, Sharon. I knew something was wrong when he came into the elevator and I just... stayed, and—I'm so, so sorry, just... please?"
He was apologizing to her.
The constricting of her throat was sudden and overwhelming, and Sharon swallowed hard as his self-recriminations came one after the other and she tried not to flinch away from them. He was apologizing to her, when not a single thing that happened today was his fault. His judgment was questionable, his training insufficient, his concern for his own safety frighteningly lax, but none of that mattered right now because it wasn't his fault.
She was his mother.
It was her job to know these things for him because he was too young to do so. It was her responsibility to prioritize his safety above everything else, including his happiness when it came down to that. Which it did, and she didn't.
Today, she had failed him. The part of her heart that would've been angry was too busy thanking God for his life, but even so, she knew that burden would lay around her neck for a long, long time.
Silence stretched like a chasm between them. She bridged it, leaning forward to lay her hand lightly against his knee.
"No," she said. "I'm not angry."
Sharon shook her head once to each side. If she spoke, she doubted her voice would hold steady, and if she cried... She had to be steady for him.
But if they were alone and she thought for an instant that he would allow it, she would have gathered him into her arms and never, ever let go.
Sharon helped him pack.
She did most of the packing, really.
Julio and the lieutenant were waiting in the living room, leaving him and Sharon and a handful of unhappy words that they passed back and forth while Sharon folded his shirts. Rusty sat on the bed and watched her roll them up, tucking them neatly into the corners of his suitcase. He tried telling her that she didn't need to do that—he'd left plenty of homes before and never packed so nicely himself, and okay, that made, like, ten shirts that she'd just folded and he was only supposed to be gone for a week...
"I'm sorry," Sharon said quietly, and Rusty slowly raised his eyes from his half-filled suitcase to Sharon. She stood facing his closet, her back to him and her shoulders set with tension. "I know this isn't what you want, and I know this isn't the thirty days notice that I promised you, but—"
"What?" Startled, he stared at her, because how could she even think that he was mad at her? "Sharon, I—"
"Lieutenant Provenza will take good care of you, and—"
"Sharon," he interrupted again. She let him, again, and from the way her arms shifted, Rusty could tell that she held them folded against her chest. "I don't care about that and, just... please stop apologizing when I'm the one who screwed up."
She turned slowly to face him and sure enough, one of his hoodies was hugged against her. "You should never have been in that position to begin with."
"Please," he begged again. Anything to make her stop talking like that, like she'd done something she owed him an apology for. "It's what I wanted."
Sharon came and lowered herself to the bed beside him, sitting close enough that her shoulder just touched his. "I was so worried..." she said in a low voice. It wasn't much of a confession when he knew that all along, but it made tears prick sharply against the inside of his eyelids nonetheless, and when Sharon's voice dissolved into a perilously shaky breath, Rusty had to grind his teeth together.
Even as he struggled not to let his emotions get the best of him, he remembered the stale taste of fear in his mouth, and his own arms crossed protectively across his chest.
"I thought..." Rusty swallowed hard, trying to rid himself of the taste. "But then you were there. You're always there, Sharon. You're always here. I know that."
Sharon's head tilted sideways, just enough that he could see her small, shaky smile.
"No," he said. "I mean—you're here, Sharon."
"I know," she said, quietly, her fingers burying themselves in the fabric of the sweatshirt she still held. "I remember."
The worst part was that wasn't even what he meant to tell her, or what he wanted to tell her, or what he should tell her, but that was enough to turn his tongue to lead, even now.
Rusty swallowed again, and twisted sideways to wrap her in another hug. Sharon caught him when he fell into her arms, and he buried his face into her neck with his eyes shut tight. There was a certain, subtle scent that lingered around her. It must have been her shampoo, because Sharon didn't use perfume and they shared the laundry soap and he never smelled like that. Rusty wasn't even sure what scent it was, only that it was familiar and comforting in a way he'd never noticed and couldn't describe.
Lieutenant Provenza was the closest thing he'd ever had to a father. But he wasn't Sharon. There was no one else who could ever be Sharon to him, and how in the world was Rusty supposed to prepare himself to face Phillip Stroh if he couldn't even come home to the safety of his own bed at night?
"Can I come back here?" he whispered, suddenly fearful. "When this is over?"
Sharon released him, straightening and scooting back enough that he could see her face. Her expression was perfectly solemn when their eyes met and Rusty tried not to wince as he braced himself for what was coming—and he'd known that it was coming, it was inevitable, really, that he couldn't stay here forever, especially now—
"This is your home," Sharon told him, her fingers gentle as she cradled his face in her hands for the second time that night. "For as long as you want it, this is your home. Do you understand?"
It wasn't enough, but he would hold her to that, when this was over. One of the terrible worries that had worked it's way beneath his skin loosened its hold on him.
Her fingers bore down just enough for him to realize that she was waiting for a response.
"I know," he said, and if she noticed his voice thick with fear and doubt, she made no mention of it.
The briefest of smiles ghosted across her face before Sharon leaned forward to press her lips gently to his forehead.
It was strange, what a lonely and despondent sensation it was to be alone, when she remembered vividly how she once reveled in it. She used to savor peace and quiet, used to think of it longingly while she was at work in the middle of a shouting match with any one of the officers she now commanded.
This time, there was no distraction at all from all the thoughts that swirled around in her head. Every last doubt, every fear, every anxiety was at the forefront of her mind. The memory of the afternoon and the thought of every worst case scenario unfolded in her mind in stark detail that turned her stomach, and when Sharon closed her eyes, they branded themselves onto her inner eyelids.
She knew that the lieutenant loved Rusty almost as much as she did, and she knew that Julio would take good care of him. There was no doubt in her mind that either of them would take a bullet for the boy if it came to that.
She prayed it wouldn't come to that.
She held herself together long enough to smile for Rusty when he walked out the door, flanked on all sides by a protective guard. She watched them swallowed up by the elevator and then she bid goodnight to her security detail, and all but slammed the door in their faces before she unraveled.
The tears weren't unexpected. How could they be, when they'd been building within her for months now? When the first ones spilled, Sharon only closed her eyes and leaned back against the door, weeping silently into the empty room.
When her legs would no longer hold her, she stumbled towards the couch. Her legs were sore now, stiff and uncooperative following her flight down the stairs, but it was a small price to pay for Rusty's life. She sank onto the couch, reaching blindly for one of the pillows and hugged it desperately against her.
She'd gone as far as she could, tonight.
There would be work waiting for her tomorrow. There was her as-yet-unidentified suspect. She would've traded her little finger for a name. There was Rusty, who would still be at the station every day—it was probably the safest place for him, all things considered. She would need to speak with him, make sure he was settled in at the lieutenant's house, check that he was as prepared as he could be for what next week would bring.
She would save him from that, too, if she only could.
But tonight, she had nothing left to give.
As the minutes ticked by in slow silence and the tears trickled steadily down her cheeks, Sharon curled herself around a throw pillow, and she cried until she was raw and the tears no longer came.