Notes: Well... this got away from me a little, but I felt bad about breaking them without fixing them later. A huge thank you to everyone for all of your comments, especially my anon commenters! You guys are the greatest. :)
She cried out six months worth of soul-deep fear that night. Silently, though she could've sobbed as loud as she liked; there was no one around to hear.
Sharon fell, exhausted, into bed, still fully dressed. She curled on her side with one of her pillows clasped to her chest, and she let tears roll quietly across the bridge of her nose. They came and came and she let them, because she knew that there would be no point in trying to hold them in now—she had reached the point where once started, the only was to stop was to let them run their course, and so she did.
She was surprised that she had even held herself together long enough for Julio and the lieutenant to leave with Rusty. Ever since the adrenaline had worn off and her heartbeat had slowed to something below sheer terror, she'd been on the brink of this collapse. She hadn't even been able to tell Rusty what she'd done, for fear that it would provoke a breakdown and God knew the boy had enough to worry about without her frightening him by getting all teary.
Especially when she'd gone and done the one thing that she promised him she would never do—send him away. It didn't matter, really, that he'd gone with Provenza, who knew him and who would die for him, if necessary, instead of off to some boarding school in Portland with no one around who loved him; it didn't matter that she'd sworn to him that he would always have a place with her. The last thing that she'd wanted to do to him after he'd been put through the trauma of today and the stress of the last few months, and the anxiety over what was coming next, was to disrupt the stability that he needed and deserved. Even if he came home to her again next week, that harm was already done.
But there was also no doubt in her mind that, as much as she hated it, she had done nothing less than was necessary, because she was keenly aware that if she'd been thirty seconds slower—if she'd taken the time to put on shoes or lock the door or stumbled on her flight down the stairs—if any of that had happened, Sharon knew that instead of helping him pick a suit to wear to court, she would be dressing him for his funeral. She wouldn't have made it in time to save him, and he either would have died alone while she battled with the door or he would have bled out before her eyes.
She could practically smell his blood; she could feel it, sticky and warm on her hands, because she would have reached for him, would have tried—
Sharon clenched her teeth and breathed deeply, taking slow measured breaths in and out through her nose, until she trusted herself not to be ill.
Somehow, she slept.
When she woke, it was still dark. She was tense and drenched in sweat, still coiled around that pillow and blood was pounding in her ears. Gingerly, Sharon straightened her legs and uncurled herself. She turned over onto her back and tried not to wince when the bones between her shoulders cracked in loud, painful protest.
Whatever she'd been dreaming about was long gone now, but she thought that a blessing more than anything else.
She took a moment to collect herself before she sat and lowered her legs over the side of the bed. Her legs, sore from exertion and exhaustion, protested her weight when she stood carefully, but they carried her the few short steps to her dresser. In the darkness, she stripped off her clothes.
She shivered as the sweat dried cool on her skin. Scalding herself in the shower would go a long way towards making her feel human again (or better yet, a hot bath and a glass of wine), but not tonight. She pulled on her nightgown and returned to bed, this time sliding beneath the covers instead of collapsing on top of them.
Her eyes still felt itchy and raw, and she was sure that pillowcase was make-up stained.
She reached for her phone. There were two missed calls and a voicemail from Andy. She let those be for now. His concern was... not unappreciated, not in the least, but even if she had the desire or the energy for company, she wasn't sure that she had the heart to let anyone comfort her right now. Besides, it was a quarter to one in the morning and what was she going to do, call him up and see if he was in the mood to meet her for a cup of coffee? Hardly.
There was one message from Rusty. His name alone provoked a visceral sort of pain in her heart.
She took a moment to collect herself before she opened it, fortifying herself first with a deep breath. She only hoped that he wasn't too angry with her for sending him off with the lieutenant, because for all that he'd promised to behave and helped her pack his things, she knew that he was hurting and frightened and given to poor judgment.
You need to play chess with Lieutenant Provenza. He's the only person I've ever met that you could beat.
She released the exhale, and took in another breath. Of all the ridiculous things to bring tears back to her eyes.
Sharon swallowed hard, and checked the timestamp again. He'd sent the message almost three hours ago now. He was probably asleep by now. If he wasn't, he should be. She didn't want to wake him.
Still, she turned up the ringer on her phone as loud as it would go, and when she settled herself for sleep as comfortably as she could, she hugged the phone against her breasts and fell asleep clutching it with both hands. Just in case.
"You look like hell."
Sure, maybe not the most tactful or welcoming of greetings, but he'd always been a matter-of-fact kind of guy.
The damn sun wasn't even up yet and he hadn't had any of his damn coffee and damn if it wasn't true. She was always pale, but in the washed out light of dawn, her skin was wan and colorless and there wasn't enough make-up in the world to hide the dark circles gathered beneath her eyes. The coffee cup in her hand clearly wasn't doing a damn thing for her.
And then, oddly, the corner of her mouth lifted. "I'm aware, Lieutenant," she said, and even he could hear the strain in her voice. "Good morning to you too."
Her arm shifted, and Provenza noticed then the second coffee cup, nestled neatly into the crook of one elbow. She must've held it there to free one of her hands to knock on the door, and that thought made him give pointed, reproachful glares to each of the two officers standing guard at his door, because why in the hell hadn't they done that for her?
They didn't appear to notice. It was also possible that the look wasn't sufficiently distinguishable from his normal, everyday expression.
He might've grumbled something about respect for one's elders, but she wordlessly offered the second cup to him then, and he accepted it.
Provenza took a step to the side. "Come in, Captain, come in." Of all the people he ever thought he'd welcome into his house one day, she was certainly never at the top of the list. He shut the door behind her. "Did you sleep?"
He never thought he'd ask that question and sincerely care about the answer, either.
"Very little." She paused with the cup halfway to her lips when she saw the kid behind him, asleep on the couch. "Did he?"
He would've liked to have told her yes. "Eventually."
Rusty seemed to be doing all right now, at least. He was sprawled out across the couch on his stomach, one hand jammed under the pillow and the other had fallen to the floor.
Something in her face softened as she watched the kid sleep, the creases in her forehead smoothing themselves out as she took in the rise and fall of his shoulders, the way his legs were tangled in the blankets while his feet had kicked themselves free.
Provenza took a long drink of his coffee for the sake of doing something with himself while she reassured herself that Rusty hadn't died during the night. He expected plain black and almost choked in surprise when he got a nonfat vanilla latte. He wondered why she'd bothered to remember, especially at a time like this.
The captain released a slow, controlled breath, lowering her head in a nod. "Thank you," she said. "For taking him."
Provenza had spent the first twenty-five years of their... relationship (for lack of a better word) being uncomfortably reminded of his second ex-wife whenever the captain appeared to follow up on one complaint or another. His fourth ex-wife, sometimes, when she'd been in a real mood about something, but usually, it was his second. It was more than the name.
It was the way she was so hellbent on always, always being right.
He'd thought it would be more satisfying than this to have finally won an argument.
He'd thought that the benefits would outweigh the risks in this particular situation. They'd had Sykes and Sanchez and the best SIS officers around, a vest and a wire and damn near every safety precaution known to man and they'd still been unlucky in the end, because the kid had lost his goddamned mind and practically murdered himself right under their noses.
"Come on," he said, to keep from thinking too hard about how he was the asshole who had put them all in this situation. He touched her elbow, steering her around the couch towards the hallway behind it. "Kitchen's this way."
He woke unsettled, aware that something wasn't right before he ever opened his eyes. The touch of the light across his face came from the wrong direction, and there was too much of it to begin with. He slept with the curtains closed, and his was a west-facing window. His room never got this much light in the mornings, his mattress was never this soft, his blankets never this smooth. There were other things, too—his head was facing the wrong direction, and his room never smelled this strongly of bacon.
The dull ache in the crease of his left knee reminded him. He'd banged it pretty bad falling all over the coffee table and he was sure that if he looked now, it would've darkened to a nasty bruise. It wasn't that bad, really, just...
Scrambling away from the descending blade, casting about desperately for something, anything, to hold off the next attack...
Rusty shuddered, and drew the blankets up and over his head without opening his eyes.
Maybe he could still pretend that this was just all one big nightmare. Which it totally was, but not in the way that he wanted it to be, because in his version, he got to wake up in his own bed in his own room in his own home, and he got to walk down the hall into the kitchen to argue with Sharon about whether or not Nutella was part of a complete breakfast.
He turned over onto his back and pulled the pillow with him, hugging it over his face. Why did he have to be such an idiot?
His instincts had kicked in, in the end—he'd known there was something unsettling about the condo the moment he'd entered and that plastic cover on the couch had just been weird, but—if he'd been a second slower, if Sharon hadn't appeared out of nowhere like some kind of miracle...
There was a panicked flutter in his chest, and an unpleasant queasiness in his stomach. Rusty swallowed hard and opened his eyes. This was a nice couch. He didn't want to be sick all over it.
Time to face reality.
It wasn't like he wasn't grateful to Lieutenant Provenza. Because Rusty knew that the lieutenant could just have easily not taken him, and... he guessed that if someone was trying to kill him, then even Emma wouldn't want to dump him just anywhere-without-Sharon, but there were a thousand worse places that he could imagine being.
It just wasn't the one place that he wanted to be.
He sighed, and let go of the blanket.
He'd promised Sharon. Whatever you need me to do.
But she'd promised him something too.
Rusty knew, okay? He knew that she was protecting him, he knew that this wasn't forever because when she said that he could come home afterwards he believed that she meant every word, and he knew that she hadn't wanted any of this to happen, either. So he wasn't mad at Sharon, just at himself for bringing this whole situation down on their heads when if he had just touched his stupid head three stupid times at the park, the SIS team would've swooped in and ended it once and for all.
He stood and stretched. Julio and the lieutenant had called out for pizza the night before, but there had to be a kitchen around here somewhere. Rusty followed the bacon smell around the corner and then down a short hall, and then he followed Lieutenant Provenza's voice the rest of the way.
Julio didn't stay the night, but the lieutenant was definitely arguing with someone.
"—don't know how you spend almost sixty years on the planet eating undercooked—"
"It's not undercooked," came an impatient voice that made Rusty blink and stop in his tracks. "It's just not burnt."
He turned another corner, and sure enough...
She stood in front of the stove, stirring a pan of what looked like scrambled eggs.
Her head came up when Rusty entered the kitchen. He'd thought that he was doing better than yesterday, but when she turned towards him, he remembered how she had looked at him the night before and his throat constricted painfully in response.
"What... what are you doing here?"
She set the spatula down on the counter beside her and stepped away from the stove. "Lieutenant Provenza invited me over for breakfast."
Rusty's eyes slid past Sharon, finally, and landed on the lieutenant. He pulled plates down from one of the cabinets and steadfastly ignored them both.
"Seriously?" Rusty said. "I mean... seriously?"
Sharon's smile grew smaller, her lips compressing into a fine, thin line. Her hands, which had reached for him, froze in mid-air and, far too late, Rusty realized that he had said that all wrong, because he didn't mean it like that.
It was just...
"I mean, you didn't have to," he said, and that only seemed to make everything worse, because Sharon folded her arms across her chest like she was hoping that he wouldn't notice that she had been reaching for him all along—which, he was suddenly uncomfortably, painfully aware—he hadn't. Because now that he thought about it, she did that, like, all the time. She reached out to him and then withdrew into herself instead, and he had never even noticed it until now.
"If this is... difficult for you," she said in a low voice, hesitation pronounced in every word, "then of course I'll—"
"No!" Rusty shook his head. "No. I'm... I'm really glad you're here."
Their eyes met, and she caught him in one of those uncomfortably long, searching looks. Uncertainty wasn't something that he liked to see on her face, because he'd grown so used to her having a solution for every problem, and now he'd gone and screwed up so bad that even Sharon couldn't fix this.
But that wasn't her fault, and he really was happy to see her.
At long last, Sharon gave him a little nod, and tilted her head in the direction of the stove. "It'll be ready by the time you're dressed."
None of them spoke much as they ate, and Provenza was the only one who finished his plate. Sharon drank three cups of coffee and didn't touch her fork. Rusty chewed his way through three slices of bacon and a slice of toast before he started to feel queasy. Sharon eyed him over the rim of her mug. In response, he pushed the eggs around on his plate and hoped that it looked like he was eating.
It was just weird, sitting at a table with both of them. Because Sharon wasn't his mother, but she was definitely motherly, and Lieutenant Provenza was... kind of fatherly? Grandfatherly? Something? Rusty wasn't sure how old the lieutenant was—or how old Sharon was, come to think of it, and he certainly wasn't going to ask either of them. That ranked near putting out his own eyes or having lunch with Phillip Stroh on the list of things Rusty wanted to do. But he knew that Provenza couldn't be that much older than Sharon, so he wasn't too old to be a father figure of sorts. And he was certainly loads better than any of Rusty's previous father figures.
Whatever they were, Rusty had never sat at a table with two people who cared about him as much as he knew that they did.
He remembered the question Dr. Joe had left him with, and the answer he'd given. That was one of the many unwelcome thoughts that had visited him in the dead of night. How could it not be, really, because there had been those long, agonizing seconds before Lieutenant Provenza announced that Rusty was coming home with him. He had been so sure that Sharon was going to tell him that she had changed her mind about witness protection, and that fear shook him to the bone.
In that instant, he had been completely, absolutely, and utterly certain that home was with Sharon.
Rusty stabbed his fork through an extra crispy slice of bacon, watching it crumble into his eggs. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Finally, Lieutenant Provenza left the table grumbling something about needing to get ready and the two of them taking longer to eat than his grandson's turtle.
Sharon lowered her coffee cup.
Rusty flattened his eggs with the tines of his fork.
"Rusty." She waited until he looked at her. "Do you still have Dr. Joe's card?"
He hadn't expected that. Rusty stared down at the mess he'd made of his eggs, giving his head a quick nod.
"Will you please think about calling him?"
He already had.
It was just... if he did, then he would have to talk about it, and he could barely stand to think about it without feeling sweaty and shaky all the way to his core. And then there was the whole court thing that was maybe even worse, because he'd met Phillip Stroh face-to-face twice already and the asshole had tried to kill him both times.
No, he didn't really want to talk about any of that.
But Sharon was watching him, clearly wanting an answer. The longer he went without giving one, the more distressed she looked. Head tilting, lips pressed together, she waited, until Rusty lowered his head and nodded. "I'll think about it."
A strained smile was her answer. "Did you sleep all right?"
"Yeah," he mumbled. He studied his fingernails intently. "I slept great."
"It's normal, you know," she said gently. "To feel—"
"Sharon," he said, and he really didn't mean to sound quite so... harsh. Rusty winced. "I'll be fine, okay? Just... just don't worry so much about me."
Which, okay, was also probably not the best thing to say to her when they both knew that the only reason that he was alive was because she worried, but...
"Someone has to." She rose, coffee in one hand and took her plate of untouched food in the other. "Come on. Lieutenant Provenza will be ready soon, and I'd hate to make him late."
Rusty followed her back to the kitchen.
Her hand, steady and reassuring, settled gently on his shoulder as he rinsed their dishes off in the sink.
"It's almost over," she said. "I know it doesn't seem like it."
"Know that I—" Sharon cleared her throat, her hand falling suddenly from his shoulder. "I will do everything in my power to find this monster."
It wasn't a promise. What he wanted, more than almost anything, was to believe that she really could. He wasn't sure anymore, not because of anything she had done wrong but because he knew that if someone tried hard enough to be found, sometimes they succeeded.
He wanted a promise, which was stupid and childish and it would only hurt more when she couldn't keep it.
"It's all right if you're angry," she said quietly, and he flinched, because no, she had it all wrong.
"No," he said. "I—I'm not mad."
She paused, eyeing him critically. "I'd understand if you were."
"I'm not," he insisted. "I just..."
He'd reached for her first the night before. Surprise had been written clear across her face then, because that wasn't something that he did, really. When he was really upset about something, she would touch his arm or squeeze his shoulder, and usually, that was enough because he wasn't a big hugger. It was too close, too tight, and made him feel anxious and trapped and sometimes brought back unpleasant thoughts. But someone had almost put a knife in his heart, and he'd needed more because... knife. In his heart.
He wasn't sure now whether his arms were stretching towards her before she stepped closer, but it didn't matter because when he buried his face into her shoulder, she held him close and silently, her hands rubbing gentle circles in his back.
"I'm sorry," he whispered into her neck.
Her hand was gentle on the back of his head, smoothing his hair down. "I know," she said quietly. "I know."
He closed his eyes.
Rusty knew the moment Lieutenant Provenza returned. Sharon stiffened against him and sighed near his ear, and he reluctantly released her.
"If the two of you have finished getting in touch with your feelings, do you think we could get a move on before I die of old age?"
But Provenza walked Sharon to her car with a hand on her arm.
Rusty watched them from the living room, staring out through the gaps in the curtains, and he was struck by the memory of the day Daniel had shown up at the police station. The day that he'd accused Sharon of wanting to get rid of him. Lieutenant Provenza had shut him up then, and he hadn't been pleased about having to come to Sharon's defense.
That felt like forever ago.
Sharon turned and waved before she got into her car.
Provenza came in to hustle Rusty into his car as Sharon drove away. He returned to lock the door and say something to the officers standing guard, and then they were off.
Rusty stared out into the passing traffic, catching glimpses of brown and blond hair, and watch faces that glinted silver in the sunlight.
Was this guy still following him?
Rusty tugged at his seatbelt. "Is this, like, safe?"
"Maybe my eyesight isn't quite what it used to be, but I'm still an excellent driver. Much better than you, I'm told."
"No, not that." Rusty paused, frowning as they shifted lanes."You didn't use your signal."
"Only morons signal in LA."
"Right?" In spite of everything, Rusty felt the faintest, fleeting joy in victory. "That's what I told Sharon."
"Well..." Provenza cleared his throat. "Do as she says, not as I do."
"But, I mean..." Rusty swept his eyes across the streets again. So many cars. So many people. So few places to hide. "What if he, like, is watching me right now?"
This time, Provenza did signal his lane change. Rusty tried not to sigh, because really.
"Relax," the lieutenant told him. "This guy likes knives, not guns, and no one's going to shoot you while we drive down the freeway. But... if it'll make you feel better, scoot down in your seat a little."
Rusty only hesitated a moment before doing so.
There was a loosening of the tension in her shoulders the moment that she stepped off of the elevator. It wasn't a relaxation, or a lightening of her heart, but all the awful helplessness of the night before reformed itself into purpose. Here, there was something that she could do for him. Here, she was useful.
She came to an abrupt halt when she entered the murder room. She wasn't surprised to find that the room was already occupied, but she wasn't prepared for the sight of all of them save Lieutenant Provenza gathered around the board, Amy scribbling away onto it, her head bent close to Mike. He stood beside her with a laptop balanced precariously on one arm while he typed one-handed. Andy and Julio were sifting through boxes that they'd stacked atop Lieutenant Provenza's desk.
He wouldn't be happy about that. Picturing his reaction was a fleeting source of amusement.
Sharon resisted the urge to check her watch. They'd left just behind her; she'd seen them in her mirror. They would be here soon.
She watched them at work for another moment. None of them was wearing their jackets, and Mike had already rolled up his sleeves. Between that and the near-empty box of donuts on Amy's desk, Sharon surmised that they had been at it awhile.
When she cleared her throat, their heads all turned towards her.
"Morning, Captain," Amy said brightly. "Buzz just left on a coffee run, but I can text him if there's anything you want."
"No, that's..." Her eyes drifted towards Buzz's desk. Sure enough, the computer was up and running, though it showed the screensaver now. Sharon cleared her throat another time. "I've had plenty. How long have you all been here?"
There was a chorus of indistinct, mumbled answers and that was clearly all that she was going to get. Instead of pressing, Sharon indicated the boxes with a wave of her hand."What is all this?"
"Everything we have on Stroh," Julio said. "We haven't found anything yet, but maybe we'll get lucky."
Sharon nodded to him, and said quietly, "Thank you. For helping Rusty settle in at Lieutenant Provenza's."
"No problem, ma'am," he said without looking up from the file in his hands. In the same tone, he added, "Have a crappy donut."
"Lieutenant Flynn brought them," Amy told her. "They're sugar free."
"And vegan," Mike added. "Don't forget vegan."
"Hey," Andy protested. "You ate two of them."
"Like I said," Julio repeated evenly. "Have a crappy donut."
"I'm fine, thank you," Sharon said, ignoring Andy's sigh. "Just give me a minute and I'll be out here with you."
She pressed her fingertips together in a gesture of gratitude before she retreated into her office. She drew the blinds and stood with her back against the closed door, tilting her head back against it. Maybe she should've expected to find them here, but she... hadn't.
She released a deep, measured breath, silently counting to five as she exhaled. She still wasn't used to them, sometimes.
The knock at the door reverberated through her, quiet though it was. Sharon took another second to collect herself, and turned to open it. She was only mildly surprised to find herself face-to-face with Andy.
"Hey," he said. He peered past her into the office, and she realized then how strange it must seem, her standing there in the dark, still wearing her coat and holding her purse. "Just thought you'd want to know that Provenza's here with the kid."
The words crashed over her in a wave of relief. "Thank you."
She opened the door enough to step just outside of it and, yes, there was Lieutenant Provenza, shifting boxes over onto Amy's desk and over in Buzz's corner, Rusty was shrugging off his backpack. Sharon watched him. He was more restless than usual, but that was to be expected, and he had been withdrawn at breakfast but no, that was normal too, under the circumstances... and he'd hugged her twice in as many days, freely and without reservation. Whether that was good or bad, she couldn't say.
Andy brought his hand up into her line of sight, offering her a napkin-wrapped donut. "Grabbed you the last one. The kid just cleaned us out of the crappy donuts."
"Oh," she said. She eyed it skeptically, but now that she thought of it, she wasn't sure if she'd actually eaten any of the food that she had cooked with Lieutenant Provenza... Sharon stretched her hand out and accepted it. "Thank you."
"Yeah, no problem." Andy lowered his voice. "You holding up okay?"
Sharon lowered her eyes. "I am fine."
"Listen," he said. "Sharon. If you ever need... anything, call me, okay? Day or night."
Carefully, she folded back the edges of the napkin. "I appreciate that. I do."
"Yeah, well, I mean it."
"Thank you," she repeated, and he nodded, and the silence stretched awkwardly between them until she found it within her power to smile. "And thank you for this," she added, indicating the donut with her free hand.
"You might want to taste them before you thank me," he advised her with a sheepish grin. "I don't think they're that bad, but..."
"I'll consider myself warned," she said, and took a careful, experimental bite. In fairness to the donut, she doubted that she she could've eaten anything and had it not taste like cardboard, but she finished it anyway as she shrugged out of her coat and set her purse in the bottom drawer of her desk. By the time she reached the last bite, she almost tasted the sweetness.
She took one last moment to collect herself, and then she went to work.
"Buzz," Rusty whispered. He drummed his pencil against his notebook in quick, short bursts, his attention everywhere but where it was supposed to be. "Seriously, what the hell was in those donuts?"
Buzz, on the other hand, was having no such problems with his concentration, and he didn't so much as glance away from his computer before responding. "Nutrients."
"Oh," Rusty said. He glanced down at the open textbook in front of him, and blinked twice before looking away again. The pages might as well have been blank. "That's terrible."
"You didn't have to eat three of them."
"Well, no, but I..." But his appetite had unexpectedly returned the moment he'd entered the room, leaving him starving because he'd hardly touched his pizza last night and he'd always been too anxious in the park to eat much of his lunch, and the anticipation of the park always made it hard to eat breakfast, so all told, it had been... awhile since he'd had a proper meal.
He'd downed those weird-ass healthy good-for-you donuts like he'd never eaten food before.
"What are you doing, anyway?"
Buzz sighed, but where usually he would've motioned Rusty back to work, he answered. "I'm going through the security footage from the captain's building. Looking for the guy who tried to kill you."
"Oh." Rusty rose, kneeling on his chair, bracing himself against the desk as he leaned across it for a better look at the monitor. He recognized Sharon's building with a sharp sort of longing, which was ridiculous when he hadn't even been gone twelve hours yet, but... He swallowed, and sank back into his seat. "Did you find anything?"
"Not yet." Buzz glanced at him, then, a quick, sideways look, and Rusty's face must've showed more than he wanted, because Buzz added, "But I've got plenty more."
"Oh." Rusty rocked back and forth on the edge of his seat. "Look, Buzz... what are the chances you guys can actually find him?"
Because Sharon and Lieutenant Provenza were both awfully invested in him not worrying about it and letting them take care of it, and... after yesterday, he was more than happy to leave the catching of bad guys to them, but it was impossible not to worry about it. He wanted to know what the odds were that they could actually find him, and who else was Buzz but his go-to guy for uncomfortable honesty?
"We've done more with less," Buzz said at last. He nodded towards the others. "And they're acting like they're not going to rest until they catch him, so the odds are pretty good, actually."
"Really?" Rusty gave him a thoroughly skeptical glance. "I mean... really?"
"I wouldn't get too used to living on Lieutenant Provenza's couch," Buzz said. He was already turning back to his computer.
That was Rusty's cue, then, to get back to his own work, but if there was ever going to be a day that made him care about polar coordinates, today wasn't it. Instead, he found his attention drifting time and again to where Sharon was huddled together with Julio and Lieutenant Flynn, and Lieutenant Provenza was waving his stupid coin jar at Amy and telling Lieutenant Tao to, for the love of God, wrap up that spiel before he went senile.
Rusty had seen them come to his defense before.
But that was different, somehow. With Daniel, all they'd had to do was stand there, because the man was a coward. Rusty had been used to Sharon's softer side by then, obviously, but when she wanted it to be, her face was terrifying, and Julio probably looked scary in his sleep.
But this was about more than just keeping him safe because if that was the goal, they could have spirited him away into witness protection ages ago and they wouldn't have to worry now about coming in early and staying late and taking him home with them. That was extra, and they did it even though he'd never had a real conversation with any of them until two weeks ago and he spent more time being a pain in the ass than he didn't.
Sharon had said something to him that day, her voice quiet and her hand on his shoulder. While everyone else had crowded around the table signing their name as witnesses to the one decent thing Daniel had done for him, Sharon had fixed him with her full attention.
You are family.
And he'd remembered, of course, and he'd known that she meant it, even if he still struggled to accept it, but... He'd never realized, exactly, that she'd been speaking for all of them that day. Because he'd been lucky with Sharon. She was already more than he'd ever had. More that even that was... more than he deserved, or knew what to do with, but somehow it had happened anyway.
He just hoped that he didn't lose it all before he had the chance to fully appreciate it.