Better or Worse
Disclaimer: This is not my sandbox. I only visit it.
A/N: Sometimes the harsh reality of an estranged marriage is all of the little unexpected surprises it can toss your way. I'm not really sure where this idea came from, exactly, but once it was embedded... it had to be written. Warning: This story is about marriage, the ups and downs, the bad and the ugly. Jack Raydor does appear, and he is with us for a while.
Special Note: My beta is a rock star! Thank you to deenikn8 for taking on this monster! Any errors found are all mine, not hers!
Encouragement comes in many ways. For all of you, thank you!
This one is finished, as all of my stories are. It is, however, incredibly long. For that reason, I am going to be posting it as it is returned by my amazing beta. Please bear with us, and as always, I hope you enjoy!
What the hell was she thinking? That seemed to be a common question that revolved around Sharon Raydor these days. It was one that she asked herself several times a day, if not several times an hour. She must have been outside of her mind to have allowed this. In the end, temporary insanity was all that she could claim. Now that it was done, there was nothing for it but to carry on. It was another fine mess that she had allowed Jack to get her into. Could she really blame him? Truthfully, at the heart of it, could she blame him for the predicament in which she now found herself?
No. Sharon knew that when it came to blame she had only herself. She could have walked away, and was well within her right to do so. Instead, she let herself be swayed. Once again she ignored the voice in her head that told her to turn away, to close the door and not look back. She used to ask herself if she would never learn. At last, it seemed that she finally had, but a life worth of lessons of just how little she could count on Jack hadn't meant anything in the end. He still managed to manipulate her, to play on her principles and emotions until he got precisely what he wanted… The freedom to do as he pleased, while she cleaned up the mess.
Jack came to her before the summer ended. He brought with him copies of the divorce papers, the adoption papers for Rusty, and something else that she had not quite counted on. Or rather… someone else.
It seemed that while they were living apart, as they had for most of their marriage, Jack managed to meet and become involved with several women. Sharon was quite aware of his affairs. Neither of them could claim a complete lifetime of fidelity, although in her defense, they were legally separated and she was human. She had needs and desires, just as he had, and so she looked the other way. What Jackson did when they were apart was his business, just as her life had nothing to do with him.
At some point in the last few years, one of Jack's affairs had resulted in a child. A daughter. Now that she knew of the girl, it was more than clear to her that the child's existence was behind his sudden return to Los Angeles the year before. His inability to be a responsible parent was not limited to only the children he created with her. Sharon wished that could be a comforting thought, but it really wasn't. Just as he had walked out on her and their children two decades before, he had walked out on this woman and their child.
But now he had a problem. Sharon didn't know if she wanted to laugh or cry as he spun the tale for her. It was just too ridiculous to be one of his lies. Too many parts of it rang true. Too much of it was just so very Jack that she had no choice but to believe him. Then there was the part of her that was hurt. The part that withdrew at the idea of her husband being so irresponsible as to create another child with a woman that was not her, and while they were still married.
Now that woman was dead.
Car accident, Jack explained. Quite unexpected and completely tragic. The child he sat on her couch still bore bruises from the accident, but was thankfully, mostly unharmed. Even if she was thrown and taken aback by the child's existence, she couldn't wish ill on it. On her.
The mother died in surgery following the accident, and had Jack listed as the child's next of kin. He was on record as the father. Already he sought out the woman's family, but there was no one to be found but an elderly mother who could not take on the care of a three-year-old child. Jack's brother wanted nothing to do with him, and in response to the existence of an extramarital offspring, Grant had simply laughed and wished him good luck. Perhaps now, his brother stated, he would finally grow up and learn to be a man.
That left him no other recourse but his wife.
"Do you think I want to be here?" Jack threw his hands up in exasperation. "Sharon, I know I've done a lot of crappy things over the years, but would I bring this to you if I didn't really need your help?" He gestured at the child on her sofa, who was looking around with big blue eyes and too confused and bewildered by all that had happened to her to do more than simply sit there. "Listen, Sharon, honey—"
"Do not." Sharon took a step back when it seemed he would move toward her. She held a hand in front of her. She looked away from him while her mind tried to process everything. There was an ache deep in her chest, while her stomach rolled and pitched alarmingly. Of all the times she imagined her husband coming back to her, asking for another chance, promising to try and do better… this was definitely not how she ever imagined it. Why now, of all times? That seemed to be the one question on her mind.
Now when she was ready to move on with her life, when finally she was at a point in her life when she was ready to reach out and grasp what she wanted, and what she needed. His timing could not be more terrible, but then, that was so very Jack too. Sharon wished that she could claim he was doing this to her intentionally, but the entire thing was just far too preposterous.
"How dare you!" Sharon's eyes narrowed at him. She allowed herself to feel the anger that he more than deserved, but in deference to the small human in the room, she kept it carefully contained. Her eyes flashed, burning in shades of emerald and gold, and when she pointed her finger at him, her hand was shaking. A tremor moved through her. "You really have the nerve to stand there and ask me… ask me…Jack!" Sharon couldn't even say the words. She couldn't bring herself to speak them aloud. She didn't even want to acknowledge them. Instead, she turned away from him and shook her head.
"I know." He sighed loudly. "Believe me, I know. Look, I'm just asking for help here. I don't know what that means. I don't know what I'm supposed to do here, Sharon. Look, I'll sign the papers if that's what you want. But I can't do this alone. We both know that. I'm a lousy father, Sharon. I'm no good at this, we know that. If anyone knows that, it's you. I don't know what to do here," he repeated. Jack ran a hand through his hair, which had gone almost completely gray over the last year. "I'll do whatever you want me to do, but Sharon, I need you right now." Then he played the card he knew she wouldn't be able to refuse. "She needs you too."
In that moment, Sharon thought she might just despise him. Her eyes narrowed and she slanted a hard, displeased look at him. He was going to force her to do the last thing that she wanted to do in that moment. His mention of the child had her looking, and once she did, Sharon began to draw the parallels. Jack had known that she would. The child looking back at her had wide, blue eyes. Jack's eyes. In a face that looked a lot like Ricky, surrounded by flowing locks of curling brown hair. Whether from Jack or the mother, she couldn't say, but even the bruises couldn't dispel the beauty of the little elfin features. She could easily see her own children in that small face, along with a stranger she would never know.
Sharon turned her back on both of them and walked away. She moved to the balcony and stared through the sliding door at the city beyond. "Just go," she said quietly, voice thick with emotion. She swallowed hard against the ache in her throat and drew a thin, shuddering breath.
"Go." She glanced back at him, eyes bright, full of the pain that he had put there. How many times was she going to allow him to hurt her. When his gaze went pointedly, and purposefully, to the child on the sofa she looked away again. "I need to think." Sharon heard him sigh and closed her eyes. He was asking her to turn her back on a life that she was building for herself, separate of him, of their marriage, and the ideals that she held onto for far too long. She couldn't do that blindly.
"Will you at least…" Jack gestured helplessly. "Will you call me and at least… tell me something." He watched her shoulders slump. She nodded quietly and he took that for what it was. Not exactly a triumph, but close to it. Sharon would do the right thing, she always did. It was why he had come to her. There was light at the end of this odd, frightening tunnel. This would be no different than a hundred other situations they'd faced over the years. He could always count on Sharon.
When he left, Sharon slumped. She pressed a hand against the cool glass door and her forehead followed. She stood there, for how long she didn't exactly know. Long enough for her shoulders and back to begin to ache and grow stiff with the posture. She foolishly thought that with one door closing another would be opening for her. Now she knew that wasn't true. However much she wanted to turn away, she couldn't. Jack had known how to play her.
He always did.
It was how she found herself on the beach. Hours later, the wind lifted her hair away from her face as she walked. Normally she would have enjoyed it. She liked the feel of the clean, cool breeze on her skin, and the way the damp sand shifted beneath her feet. She held her shoes in one hand, while the water flowed in and around her ankles. She wanted a neutral location for this talk, and maybe she wanted someone to talk her out of the decision that she knew she already made.
"You aren't seriously thinking about it?" He looked down at her, eyes dark and unsure. When she looked back at him, he looked away and swore quietly. "Dammit, Sharon…"
"What am I supposed to do?" She stopped walking and turned to look at him. The wind lifted her hair, and she pushed it out of her face. "Legally, we're still married…"
"The papers are filed." He moved a step ahead of her, stopped and turned. "So what? You're going to stop the divorce and take him back? Raise a child that isn't yours, and do what with it? Do you have any idea how insane this is?"
Her laugh when it came rang hollow and bitter. "Oh, I know exactly how insane it is. I can't even believe that I'm considering it. Andy…" She reached out to touch his arm and he jerked it away from her. Sharon sighed. She looked away, into the wind, and decided she could blame it at the prickling of tears behind her eyes. "He's already signed the adoption papers. Both sets. Rusty's and now…" She frowned, Sharon suddenly had the horrible realization that she couldn't recall the child's name. "Anna," she remembered finally. She drug another stubborn lock of dark hair away from her face. "We'll adopt Rusty together and I'll adopt Anna, and if I still want the divorce he'll give it to me…"
"While you take responsibility for cleaning up his mess and he runs off to make another one," Andy rumbled angrily. "Son of a bitch." His hands found his hips and he looked down while he shook his head. "Either way, he's off scott free and you're the one raising another woman's kid."
"I'm already raising another woman's kid," Sharon said quietly, and the statement was almost completely lost on the breeze. Her gaze followed his to the ground, they watched the surf pool around their feet. "Tell me not to do it." When she looked up at him again, it was through her lashes. Her eyes had gone dark with emotion. "Tell me this is stupid, and I should just walk away."
She was torn. Andy stared back at her. He swore quietly and took a step forward. His hands moved into her hair. He caught the wildly blowing tresses and wrapped them around his fingers as he tipped her head back. That was exactly what he wanted to tell her. She had been manipulated and played, and now she was torn between two choices. What she should do, and what she wanted to do. "You have no obligations to that kid," he said quietly. "She's not yours, she's nothing to you…" His chest clenched tightly, even as he said the words. "It's past time for Jack to take some responsibility for his life and all the mistakes he's made along the way. You deserve a future, Sharon. You deserve to be happy…" Andy gazed into the moist sheen of her eyes and sighed. "She's not Rusty. It's not the same thing, Sharon." He felt the tremor run through her and lowered his head until their faces were only scant centimeters apart. "But you're going to do it," he said quietly. "You can't walk away. You can't leave that kid to Jack's irresponsible mercies."
He drew away from her and Sharon felt his absence keenly. She watched his muscles tense as he turned his back on her. Sharon folded her arms around herself. Whatever unspoken understanding had existed between them was slipping away now, carried away by the wind. She was going to remain a married woman, which left nothing else between them, and effectively shattered what had started as friendship and was now moving toward something else. No longer. A door was closing, just not the door she thought it would be. Sharon stepped hesitantly forward and lay a hand on his back. The muscled beneath bunched. He didn't move when she edged around him and into his line of sight.
She drew her bottom lip between her teeth and sighed. "I'm sorry."
Maybe she shouldn't have allowed them to get this close to begin with, but she couldn't regret it. The last several months had been wonderful. She had enjoyed their quiet dinners, the time spent together outside of the department. Sharon had come to rely on him, personally as well as professionally. There had been a line, however. One they hadn't crossed. A silent agreement. Not while she was married. Once the divorce was final, the possibility of exploring more existed.
His hands settled at her shoulders and moved slowly downward to loosely circle her wrists. Andy drew her closer and lowered his head again. When she tipped her face toward him, their lips brushed. He had kissed her before. There had been a sense of hope in it, and longing, a fledgling romance that seemed to now be scattered at their feet. Lost in the surf, to be carried away by the tide.
"He was right." Andy said quietly. His nose brushed her cheek and he felt the cool dampness of tears. His fingers trailed slowly back up her arms. His head bent toward her ear, and while he was tempted to hold her, he couldn't quite bring himself to do it. "Provenza," he explained. "He said it was a bad idea. I don't know how I'll be able to look at you now and not want to strangle the bastard you're married to."
"Bad timing perhaps," She said instead. Sharon drew back from him. She folded her arms against her chest and drew a breath. "It'll be difficult, but I trust that we're adult enough to handle this professionally."
"If that's how it's going to be." He tilted his head at her, then he looked away with a scowl. "Yeah, you got it." When he looked back, his face was impassive. "Captain."
It stung, more than it should. It was exactly what she expected of him. Sharon drew herself up and arched a brow at him. "Lieutenant."
A muscle in his jaw ticked. "Go home," he told her. "Give my regards to your husband."
Her lips thinned, pressed together. "I'll do that." There were many other things that needed to happen first, but yes, she would be calling Jackson at some point.
He didn't look at her quite the same away again. Sharon no longer felt the lingering heat of his gaze as she moved through a room. She could no longer count on the sparkle of his dark eyes when her gaze found his. He was professional, if a bit terse. How could she blame him for that? She basically broke up with him to take her husband back, even if they weren't exactly together. Not in the true sense of the word.
That she was back with Jack came as a surprise to many. None so much as her own family. If Rusty worried they would be reticent at accepting him, it had nothing on how they felt about a new younger half-sister. They were both understandably angry and disappointed. Rusty was quiet on the subject, slower to process. In a way, she supposed he understood the best. Anna's mother was dead, where his had abandoned him, but they were both orphans… of a sort. Rusty's thoughts on the matter were much like hers, Jack was hardly a father that could be counted on.
He didn't know what to say when she told him. At first, the idea that she was now adopting two children seemed like a joke. He laughed, until he realized she was serious. Then, just as he always did, he read so clearly how unhappy she was about it. It was stupid and unfair, he told her. He now liked Jack even less than he had before, and once she told the other two, Rusty had retreated to speak to them.
Things were still a bit awkward between him and Ricky, but surprisingly, it was her elder son to whom he talked about it the most. Whatever her son told Rusty about her history with Jack, he was at least hesitantly accepting. He didn't like it. Neither did she. On that they were agreed. Rusty wasn't running away, however, and of that she was the most thankful. She would not sacrifice her son for a daughter that wasn't hers, and while the thought of it was odd, Rusty was hers. If he had shown even the smallest signs of bolting, Jack would have been on his own.
Instead, Rusty said the one thing that probably made it all easiest on her. "We're going to need a bigger house." She almost wanted to cry when he came to her with that, only two days after she sat him down and told him what Jack was expecting of her.
In the end, Rusty was right. The condo was spacious enough for the two of them, even the two of them and Jack… but there wasn't room enough for a three-year-old and everything that she would need.
For better or worse, those were the words that Jack used when trying to talk her into the idea.
"We've had a lot of worse, Sharon. Maybe now it's time to do better…"
She didn't believe him. Not even for a second. Which was why she was asking herself, what the hell was she thinking?