Notes: I must've watched that last minute and a half a hundred times, and it's just one of the most perfect things I've ever seen. This SHOW, seriously. *sighs* And now we have to wait sixth months for more, but um... that'll give me lots of time to finish When It Rains and write ALL the things? :D Thank you all for reading/commenting/letting me shout at you incoherently/all of the above/etc. You're all lovely.

Home Again


He cried.

He hid his face in her hair and bawled. He didn't even care that he was like a child in her arms, because he had been so, so afraid that she, too, would leave him, and instead she was holding him as sob after sob was wrenched out of him.

Maybe it was a stupid fear, to think that this would be the reason that Sharon left him, when she already knew the worst parts of him. But—he bunched handfuls of her jacket in his fingers and clung to her neck, still fearful that if he let go of her, that if she had time to think about it...

He was broken, when she found him. She helped him put himself back together, piece by piece and day by day, until finally there were sometimes entire days when he didn't think about how all the cracks had gotten there. But there was that one last little piece that he just couldn't make fit, no matter how hard he tried to shove it into place. The more he tried, the more he felt himself coming apart again. He would have shattered all over again, if she hadn't caught him.

He hadn't meant to reach for her. He had tried so hard not to, because she wouldn't hug him back. But even as he'd tried to brace himself for the rejection that he'd known was coming, he'd stepped towards her because he'd used up all his bravery before lunchtime but he still had to finish this, and by the time that he'd realized what he'd done, her arms were already wrapped tightly around him.

Rusty turned his face into the crook of her neck.

This had been the worst day.

Sharon didn't breathe a word. She held him close, tracing gentle circles in his back, and she waited. He didn't know how long it took, but she swayed gently back and forth with him in her arms until it was over. Calmness returned slowly when the tears finally slowed but with it came exhaustion; he was drained and empty, without the strength even to lift his head.

So he stayed as he was, his arms slowly loosening from their stranglehold around her neck, and she held on just the same as before until Rusty lifted his head from her shoulder. She squeezed him hard before she stepped back.

He had trouble meeting her eyes then.

He wasn't sure if he was hot with embarrassment or guilt or what, but his eyes flickered to hers out of habit and he flinched away, nearly tripping over his feet as he tried to shuffle backwards without being too obvious about it. Sharon did make a sound then, a soft hm in the back of her throat, and she stepped closer again to take his tear-stained face carefully in her hands.

No one had ever done that for him before. He could feel his throat tightening again.

She offered him a small, reassuring nod, and then she went to her desk to find him a tissue.

Rusty blew his nose.

"You okay?"

"I think so." He'd spent the morning feeling like he would come out of his skin at any moment, and his confession just now left him feeling wobbly in the knees and like his heart could come bursting out of his throat at any moment, but... "Yeah."

He was beginning to settle into himself again.

He looked at Sharon in time to see her crumple a tissue in her own hands, and she raised her eyes to the ceiling, blinking rapidly. He hadn't even noticed that he'd made her cry.

Before he had the chance to feel too bad about that, she released a deep breath and stepped closer again, her hands settling gently on his arms when she stopped in front of him. She waited like that until he screwed up the courage look her in the eye, and then she smiled at him.

"Rusty," she said, softly and seriously. "Know this. I love you."

He swallowed. "I know, Sharon."

"I will always love you," she continued, as solemnly as before. "Whoever you've been, and whoever you become."

He struggled to smile. "Whatever happens?"

"That's right." Her hands tightened on his shoulders, and Rusty realized with an unexpected shock that she was looking up at him.

She was always taller, in his mind's eye.

"Now," Sharon went on, letting her hands fall. "We can stop for dinner on the way home."

Rusty shook his head. "If it's all right, I think I'd rather just go home."

"Home," she repeated in a strange little voice, and nodded. "Get your suitcase. Come on."

Rusty only realized how homesick he was when he stepped back through the front door and relief rolled over him in waves. Even those weird paintings, the ones Sharon liked for reasons that were utterly beyond him, were a welcome sight that made him more comfortable in his own skin.

"I, um..." He drew in a deep breath and held it, filling himself with the smell of home. "I'm going to get changed out of this."

He smelled like Lieutenant Provenza's shampoo and still tasted the stale air of the courtroom at the back of his throat. The first wasn't so bad, even if he was tired of carrying that certain kind of old person scent around with him all the time, because Lieutenant Provenza was good to him and hadn't stopped trying to make Rusty feel safe and happy, even though they both knew what an impossible task that was.

But the courtroom... He crossed his arms over his chest and tried not to shudder. He wanted to wash that off.

At Sharon's nod, he disappeared down the hall and went straight to his room. There, he collapsed onto his bed, face buried in the pillow, and stayed there a long, long time, resting on his own bed and breathing in familiar air.

The next thing he knew, Sharon was knocking on his door. "Rusty?"

He turned over onto his side, sleepy and confused when he opened his eyes. One sleeve was twisted uncomfortably around his wrist, and his belt buckle was digging painfully into his navel and okay, that's what he got for falling asleep in a stupid outfit that wasn't comfortable to wear in the first place.

But it was okay, because he was home, and Sharon was there.

He cleared the sleep from his voice. "You can come in."

Sharon had had the sense to change into something more comfortable. She hovered in his doorway, the ends of that black sweater hugged around herself as she studied him. "Did I wake you?"

He shook his head as he pushed himself up. "No. I mean, yes, but I didn't mean to fall asleep."

To his surprise, she smiled at him and shook her head. "I ordered us some dinner. But it'll keep, if you're tired."

"Pizza?" He'd been too nervous to eat, most of the week.

At his hopeful tone, she lifted an eyebrow in a way that he thought meant probably, and then she turned and shut the door behind her.

He made a face after her before rising to rifle through his dresser. He hadn't brought his favorite pair of jeans to Lieutenant Provenza's. Sharon had done most of the packing, really, because he'd been too upset to do it, and he hadn't told her. But that meant that they were clean to wear now, at least. He shrugged into a t-shirt and rolled his shoulders back to settle it into place. The now-wrinkled suit, he left in a heap on the floor. Sharon would be annoyed, but if it was going to need dry cleaning anyway, what was the point?

He just didn't expect it to happen so fast, because the first thing, the very first thing she said to him when he appeared in the living room was, "Did you hang up your suit?"

Rusty scoffed. "Sharon, why would you even—"

She waved her hand in the general direction of his room. "Do it now."

He sighed.

When he returned, Sharon was in the kitchen pouring herself a glass of wine. A large glass of wine. She eyed him over the top of it, a speculative, searching kind of look that he wasn't sure he liked.

"Do we, um..." He scuffed his toe against the carpet. "Do we have to talk about it?"

The look intensified. "Would you like to?"

"Not really." Rusty knelt on the couch, leaning over the back of it to watch her. He thought he'd really had enough of talking for one day.

Sharon sipped her wine. "We don't have to talk about anything, Rusty. But if later you do want to—"

"I know," he assured her. "I know. And I—I'm sorry about... saying that you wouldn't—"

"Oh, Rusty." Sharon's face softened. "You don't need to apologize."

"I—I was just..."

Petrified. Terrified. Panicked.

He wasn't an idiot.

He knew what the kids at school said about him, and he knew how they said it. His mother had been too high to ever wonder herself, but her boyfriends hadn't always been and they had made it very clear what they thought about that, and then there were all the men who came to him but insisted that they weren't like that. As if that made it better, somehow, in their minds. Whether they were or not, they hurt him just the same.

But Sharon... She gave him a home, and she loved him enough to let him complain about making his bed and tell her that she had terrible taste in music and that she was seriously the worst chess player in the entire world, but that was different. That was what normal teenagers did, and Sharon wanted to badly for him to have a normal life.

Part of him had still been waiting for that inevitable moment when Sharon would realize that he had been a mistake. That he was never going to be normal. That he wasn't the good kid she thought he was. That he was broken in ways that she couldn't fix.

It just... seemed like too much to hope for, that she would tell him that he didn't need fixing. And maybe it was stupid and irrational and wrong, but it was there anyway.

Sharon came around the counter, wine glass in hand. "Don't even worry about it," she said gently.

Rusty lowered his head. Still hunched over the couch, he stared down at his hands and nodded. She always did that. She always managed to reassure him even when it seemed impossible, and he was still doubting her. Not because she had ever done anything wrong—she had done everything right, everything, every single time, but how could he ask her to love all of him when he couldn't do it himself?

Sharon tilted her head, still watching him, understanding rapidly fading to concern, and that was how, when the sharp knock at the door made him flinch, he knew that she noticed. Rusty winced. It was only a small consolation that she jumped too, enough to send the wine in her glass sloshing almost over the sides.

She exhaled when the second knock came, and handed him her glass. She went to answer the door, picking up her purse on the way, but over her shoulder she sent him one of those looks that told him that she wasn't going to let that go.

When she returned, he stared hopefully at the box in her hands and tried to beat her to the punch. "Can we just, like, not... talk about that, either?"

Sharon shifted her grip until the box was balanced on one hand. With her free hand, she motioned for her wine back, and then the passed the pizza into his hands. "We can talk about it later," she said at last. "Not tonight."

That was already more than he thought she would give. Rusty tried not to sigh and sniffed the box. "Did you get pepperoni?"

"Half," she said, speaking over her shoulder on the way to the kitchen. "Move the white pillows before you sit down."

Rusty stared after her retreating back. "What?"

"The white pillows, Rusty," she said, pulling two plates down from the cabinet. "I don't want you getting sauce on them."

"You want to eat on the couch?" He looked at her skeptically. "You want to? Really?"

"It's closer to the TV, after all," she said. He heard the echo of his own words there, but he couldn't remember when or why he'd said it, and it didn't seem to matter now.

He twisted around and set the pizza carefully on the coffee table, and then he tossed the pillows to one of the armchairs before he opened the box. Half pepperoni, just as she'd promised, and half cheese. Extra everything, from the looks of things.

He flopped back onto the couch and reached over his head to take the plate Sharon offered him. "What do you want to watch?"

"You can pick," she said. She held up a finger when he opened his mouth, and amended, "On the condition that no one is violently dismembered by a chainsaw. Move over."

Like there was any other kind of dismemberment. "Regular saws, then."

"If you insist." She gave him a sidelong glance. "But I should warn you that in that case, my choice will include lengthy musical numbers."

"Fine," he huffed. "We can watch The Avengers. But only if you promise not to say unrealistic once."

Sharon smiled into her wine glass. "Deal."

He felt almost normal again by the time the credits rolled.

"There's dessert in the freezer," Sharon told him. "If you're still hungry."

The look she gave him was almost questioning. Rusty did his very, very best not to roll his eyes. Just because she didn't believe in dessert...

He went to the kitchen while she knelt in front of the TV and sorted through her DVD's. The cherry vanilla mascarpone gelato... thing was obviously Sharon's. (Who put cheese in ice cream? Probably the same people who had invented cheesecake, but still.) He eyed the other container with a grin. Chocolate, mixed with more chocolate and candy. She knew what he liked, at least.

He left the lid to each pint on the counter and brought two spoons back with him. "Did you pick yet?"

She owned an awful lot of DVD's for someone who watched TV basically never, and there was no way that she could explain away the cable and the DVR as things that she kept for when her kids visited. That was one of those things that he wondered about sometimes. Maybe she'd had more free time when she'd worked in FID.

He just hoped that whatever she picked wasn't old, boring, or depressing. And that it was in color and in English, because it was really great that Sharon appreciated old French classics or whatever (someone had to), but the entire point of watching a movie was that it was two hours not spent reading.

She held up a disc for his approval. Rusty blinked. "Really?"

"Don't you like it?"

"I didn't know you did." Sharon hadn't struck him as a Star Wars fan. He hadn't even noticed that she owned it. Probably because he'd given up on snooping through her movies after the first five minutes, because he'd never heard of any of them.

"If you'd prefer something else—"

"That's okay." He brandished her ice cream in her general direction. "This will melt before you find something else that isn't terrible."

He fell asleep again.

And, okay, maybe it was his fault for lying down, but his legs kept falling asleep so he took one of the pillows and stretched out across two thirds of the couch while Sharon put the uneaten half of her ice cream back into the freezer. That was harder than it sounded, because it really wasn't that big of a couch and Sharon needed space too, so he ended up hooking his legs over the arm and letting them rest on the end table.

Sharon returned, not empty handed as he expected, but with another glass of wine. She rolled her eyes when she saw him, and motioned for him to give her a few more inches, but she didn't tell him to move.

So he relaxed and made himself comfortable, and tried to only squash Sharon's leg a little bit.

When he closed his eyes, it was just to rest his eyelids a moment. Just until they didn't feel so heavy. He wasn't missing anything, really, because he'd seen this movie enough to know what action went with what dialogue, and he could just listen along and picture the scenes in his mind until his eyes wanted to stay open.

That didn't really work out for him.

One minute, Princess Leia's theme was playing. The next, he woke to a room dark but for the light in the kitchen, blanketed by a silence punctuated only by the sound of his own breathing. And Sharon's, too, he realized as his awareness spread slowly beyond his own body, because she was still sitting there beside him. Rusty sat slowly, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. His legs were asleep again. Sensation returned painfully, his skin prickling in a decidedly unpleasant way as blood returned to his toes.

Sharon was asleep.

He squinted at her in the dim light, but there was no question about it. Her legs were stretched forward across the coffee table and the pillow was even still in her lap, but her arms were only loosely wrapped around it now, and she'd slid forward enough to rest her head against the back of the couch.

Rusty watched her, hesitating, until he was sure that he could stand without falling over. Then, quietly, he took all of the dishes and his empty ice cream container to the sink and rinsed them all. The dishes and Sharon's empty wine glass went into the dishwasher and ice cream carton to the recycling, and he somehow managed to accomplish all that without waking her.

Rusty returned to the living room. He thought about just tucking a blanket around her or something, but that would probably wake her, anyway. If it didn't, she would be out here half the night and wake up with a pinched nerve in her neck.

He sighed, and gently touched her shoulder. "Sharon."

She stirred, making a quiet, sleepy sound.

"Sharon, wake up," he insisted.

She blinked her eyes open long enough to focus on him, and then her head fell back again. "How long was I asleep for?"

"I don't know." She cracked one eye open to look at him, and he admitted, "I fell asleep again."

"I know." Sharon smiled faintly. "I saw you doze off."


He offered her his hand. Surprise flickered across her face, but not enough to keep herself from letting him pull her to her feet. One hand rubbed at the side of her neck when she stretched.

"Guess the party's over, then," he said.

"Mm." Sharon yawned into her shoulder. "You should get some sleep."

"Yeah." Rusty swallowed. "I, um... Thank you. For, you know, everything."

Her head tilted. "You don't need to thank me for anything."

It was a total lie, obviously, but she would say that.

There was an expression that she wore sometimes, with the skin around her eyes crinkling and her lips rising up, and when she looked at him it was like light touched her face. There was more love in that look than he knew what to do with, and he knew what it meant because once—a really, really long time ago now, but he would never forget—someone else had looked at him like that too.

This would all be so much less complicated if he could just stop loving his mother. He wanted to, sometimes, but most of the time he wanted her to be okay. He wanted her to get help, and he didn't know what he wanted to happen after that, but it didn't involve leaving home. He was certain of that now.

He wasn't going anywhere, not when one night of pizza and some movies was enough to make him safe again, and if it wasn't enough to make him forget what an awful, awful day he'd had, it was enough to make it feel like it had happened a million years ago instead of that morning.

There was something else there too, another undeniable realization that he didn't need to face tonight, but that moment was creeping up on him, minute by minute, day by day. But someday, there would come the moment when he looked at her and the word in his mind wouldn't be guardian.