I would like to thank each and everyone of you who ever took the time to review or offer me words of encouragement. It was a joyous experience to write this story, it was nice to get what I had to say about all the characters down on paper so to speak :) And to have the poetic license to play with not only the established characters but also to create my own was a real honor, I can only hope you enjoy the final installment!

By the time Sharon managed to slink her way through the front door, it was well past ten pm. She flung her shoes next to the hall closet and dropped her belongings onto the table, wincing slightly as she heard something hit the floor. Not bothering to turn around, she flipped on the light in the living room, squinting slightly as her eyes adjusted to the harsh light.

She assumed that since the rest of the lights in the downstairs portion of the house were off that Rachel had turned in early. Sharon's shoulders slumped at the realization; she had really hoped to resolve this situation with her tonight, but it seemed that it would have to wait another day.

She decided that she would call it an early night as well and she hummed a generic melody to her self as she walked down the hallway toward the kitchen; her bare feet soundless on the soft wood. She found her way to the refrigerator thanks to the soft glow of the running lights beneath the cabinets. She scrunched up her nose at the various leftovers, and grabbed the jar of plum jelly from the door. With her energy being almost depleted, Sharon decided that a PBJ would have to do for tonight.

As she turned away she effortlessly closed the fridge door with her foot and immediately reached for the handle of the pantry door. With the peanut butter and bread retrieved, she slid her hand down the counter knowing from memory which drawer held the silverware, pulling on the handle gently. She extracted a butter knife and proceeded to make her sandwich. As she spread the purple goo onto the bread, her thoughts started to wander, into territory that she wasn't quite ready to visit.

Why can't you just accept his love?

I don't need it.

Oh yes you do, or else we wouldn't be having this conversation.

She shook her head slightly, not quite believing that she was in fact arguing with herself. Sharon gently sat the piece of bread that was now thoroughly coated in jelly down and picked up the next while unscrewing the lid to the peanut butter. Scooping out a generous amount onto her utensil she again let her thoughts roam.

He loves you.

I know…

So why should anything else matter?

I don't deserve him.

Who are you to make that decision?

Sharon chuckled humorlessly to herself as she brought the two halves of her sandwich together, turning towards the fridge once more. She replaced the jar while simultaneously reaching for the jug of milk, the glass cold and unforgiving beneath her fingertips.

Because I know myself and I'd like to think I know him.

Things have changed in intervening years.

Be that what it may, I still know myself.

Do you really?

All of a sudden a scream she had never heard pierced the air, causing Sharon to reflexively let go of the milk jug. She watched as if in slow motion as the glass finally connected with the hardwood, shattering on impact, showering her legs and soaking the hem of her dress.

She abruptly turned and sprinted down the hall, feeling her feet stick to the floor as they pounded on the hardwood. She didn't think she just ran, using the banister of the stairs for leverage as she swung around the corner; taking the stairs two at a time she could feel her sore knee cry out in protest, but all she could think about was getting to Rachael.

She skidded to a halt in front of her daughter's bedroom door, before she effortlessly thrust it open. She could feel her own chest heaving, matching the erratic pattern her daughter's seemed to have taken up. Sharon's eyes darted around the room and not seeing anything amiss they came back to settle on her daughters face. Rachael's hair that outlined her face was saturated with sweat, her dark eyes wide and pleadingly staring at her mother.

Unexpectedly her daughter let loose a pitiful sound, one she hadn't heard since she was quite little.

"Mommy!" she wailed and then seemed to crumble.

It took Sharon two quick strides to catch Rachael, grasping her around the waist and turning her body so she would connect with the floor first instead. She felt her back seize as she came into contact with the pole of her daughter's bed, wincing as the rough wood drove into her spine. Although when she felt her daughter's shaking hands entangle themselves into her hair, the tears soaking through her blouse, all of her pain was forgotten.

"Oh Little One," she whispered fighting back tears of her own.

Sharon began to rock back and forth unconsciously, something she would surmise later every mother was engrained with. This simple motion used to calm a colicky baby or even a heart-broken teenager, but in this case it was so much more.

Sharon tried to enfold Rachael as far into her embrace as she possibly could, while the younger woman cuddled farther into her mother, seeking reassurance. The older woman continued to soothe the child in her lap, one hand wrapped around her waist while the other continued to stroke the unruly dark ringlets. Her lips never seemed to leave the younger brunettes forehead, her breath coming in short pants tickling Rachael's skin.

Rachael's nose was so far buried into her mother's hair that she could smell the sweet and fresh scent that seemed to always accompany Sharon Raydor. As far back as she could remember, Rachael could never recall a time when her mom didn't smell that way. Whenever she had come home from her morning jog or even trolling through the streets at ungodly hours searching for a perp, her mother never lost her scent. Even thinking back to the day Jesse had been born, although the memories were hazy, Rachael could clearly recall what her mother looked and smelled like, it was a comforting thought.

Suddenly her mind drew up a picture from her nightmare, blue lips and cold skin. She shuddered violently, pulling her mother closer to her body. She was grasping at straws, clutching desperately at the solid form beneath her, willing her self to calm down. Her thoughts seemed to whirl around in her head, shifting and ever changing…chaotic.

Mom is here.

She's here with me.

She is fine…unharmed.

Sharon could feel the warm, moist breath at the base of her neck become less agitated, she almost believed that Rachael had lulled herself to sleep. That was until she spoke softly…so softly that Sharon had to strain to hear her.

"It was horrible," she quietly sobbed.

Sharon's chest trembled as she inhaled, waiting for the younger woman to continue.

She felt the grasp on her hair become tighter, almost painful with the next admission; the steady breath on her collarbone became erratic.

"I watched him strangle you…watched the life drain from your body."

Sharon drew in a sharp breath knowing well what her daughter had witnessed. She could vaguely remember seeing Rachael in the kitchen, her petite form and riotous curls through hazy eyes. She closed her eyes tightly so the tears would not escape, holding in her own grief.

"Why?" she asked suddenly raising her head from her mother's neck.

The older brunette shook her head, in truth not quite knowing her self, unable to look into her daughter's eyes. Then she felt a feather soft touch on her face, gently caressing of her cheekbone. She slowly opened her eyes seeing Rachael intently staring at where her hand was touching; she cringed wondering if her daughter was envisioning a dark bruise that once marred her skin or the small cut she received from hitting the side of the counter.

As soon as her mother flinched, Rachael's eyes flew up with annoyance, but when she saw the expression on the older woman's face she softened her own. Sharon began to speak, her tone soft and melodic.

"I'm not sure," she cleared her throat, "but I do know that none of it had to do with you or your brother."

She shifted gently, crossing her legs beneath her daughter so she was in fact truly sitting in her mother's lap. As they resettled Sharon for the first time in a long time took in the appearance of her daughter, genuinely looking at her. Her eyes and hair were so much her father but Sharon began to notice things…things that reminded her so much of her self.

The way her lips seemed to twitch when she was deep in thought, or the way her eyebrows bunched together in a frown when she was confused. Yet it was her eyes that seemed to do so much of the silent communication.

Though they were not the same color of hers, they held an understanding or maybe even an acceptance that was familiar. She had seen the same emotion in her bathroom mirror for the last twelve years…maybe they weren't so different after all.

Sharon gently cupped Rachael's cheeks in both of her hands, wiping away the new tears with her thumbs. Making a decision, she gently pulled the younger woman forward, resting her lips on her daughter's forehead, speaking softly against her skin.

"Never blame yourself, I did what I did because I am your mother…its my job to protect you," her voice faltered and she struggled to compose her self.

"And if that meant taking the brunt of the abuse then that was what I was going to do," she sobbed as she felt Rachael begin to shake.

"I don't know what I would have done had he ever tried to hit either of you…or if God forbid…. I just…. couldn't let that happen."

Rachael began crying in earnest now Sharon could feel the tears running downward over her hands. She pulled away from her daughters face so she could see her eyes, so that Rachael could see the truth behind her words. Their eyes locked, watery brown to glassy green.

"And I would do it all over again…you and your brother are my world, without you there would be no point in living."

At that admission Rachael abruptly stopped crying, her eyes widening, she was shocked at her mother to say the least. She looked her mother square in the eye, only seeing the truth in her words.

Rachael licked her lips, "What do you mean…I…I don't understand…"

Sharon cut her off, "I have never told anyone what I'm about to tell you," she paused, "so please keep this between us."

The younger woman nodded slightly, curious as to what would have her mother so secretive.

Sharon inhaled deeply, "The night Andy left…you and Jesse were at friends' houses I believe," she looked at Rachael for conformation; she nodded an affirmative.

"Well I…" she began but stopped short, ashamed of what she had tried to do.

"I felt lost and unwanted," she chuckled to her self, devoid of humor, "I cried for hours until a thought finally occurred to me."

Rachael's eyes were trained intensely on her mother, taking in and processing every word.

Sharon swallowed thickly, "So I turned on the water in the tub and climbed in," her voiced cracked, "and laid there as the water rose above my head."

Rachael's eyes broadened, if that were possible, her face becoming pale as she put together the rest of the story her self. Her mother noticed this and forestalled any further explanation instead she gazed at the younger woman with shame and apprehension, pleading for her daughter to understand.

All of a sudden she felt Rachael's arms wind around her neck, and all she could do was grip her daughter's back tightly. She finally let the tears she had kept at bay fall freely from her eyes.

She felt more than heard Rachael whisper into her hair, "Let us help you," she sniffled loudly.

"Please," she begged desperately.

Sharon gripped her daughter even tighter and shook her head yes, wordlessly agreeing to confide in her children; she felt Rachael's body sag with relief.

Then she felt the younger woman begin to pull away slightly, and she loosened her grip allowing her to recline backwards. The smile she saw on her daughters face reminded her so much of her own, she felt a painfully sweet stab in her chest.

"And when I mean us," Rachael began cautiously, "I mean ALL of us."

She stared directly into her mother's eyes, efficiently letting her know that this was one argument she was willing to fight and maybe even win. Sharon knew what she meant and finally began to feel the wall around her heart start to crumble, she would call Andy later.

Then suddenly Rachael seemed to become shy; there was something else she wanted to ask her mother. Sharon ran her hand gently through her daughter's curly locks coming to rest at the base of her skull.

"What is it Little One?"

She watched, as the wheels in Rachael's brain seemed to turn, thoroughly mulling over the question.

"Will you lay with me?" the younger woman questioned shyly.

Sharon smiled delightedly at her daughter, and laughed slightly, "Of course…I'm too old to sit on the floor anyway."

Rachael chuckled as she stood from her position in her mother's lap, offering her a hand up, which Sharon gratefully accepted. She winced slightly as she put pressure on her sore knee, this did not go unnoticed by her daughter.

"Your knee acting up again?" she questioned.

Sharon chuckled slightly, "Well when you trip on your way into the elevator and break the heel on your shoe…you tend to land on what ever hits the floor first, yes."

Rachael sucked in a breath, "God Mom are you ok?"

"Yes, its just a little swollen," she replied dismissively as she walked around to the right side of Rachael's bed, "Although I do have a feeling ill have to ice it tomorrow."

Her daughter looked at her face and then back down to her legs, as if appraising the situation, not entirely believing the older woman. Sharon proceeded to through the covers back, crawling under the sheets, sighing contently as her head found the pillow.

"Now get in I'm exhausted," she softened the order with a playful wink.

Rachael's exaggerated salute was followed by a giggle as she climbed under the covers, laying her head gently on her mother's chest. She felt the her shift into a comfortable position, their bodies relaxing, before she once again buried her hands deep within her mother's hair. Both content in each other's embrace, they drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

Sharon wasn't entirely sure what brought her out of her wonderful dream, which were few and far between in and of them selves. But as she looked around Rachael's room, straining to make out the outlines of the furniture, she heard a faint noise coming from outside. She cautiously slipped out of the bed, and quickly replaced the covers so she wouldn't disturb the sleeping girl curled up below the comforter.

As she descended the stairs she heard it again, this time a little louder. It sounded as if something was scuffing against wood…in fact it reminded her of all the times Jesse had sat on the porch playing his guitar. That's how she would know he was deep in thought…thinking about the piece of music he was currently learning or even what had happened over the course of the day. He would sit on the railing, swinging his feet back and forth while staring out at the yard, not really seeing just thinking.

She crept closer to the front door, cautiously coming to lean against it while peering through the peephole. There, sitting on the rail, staring at the clear night sky was a man that she would know anywhere. He looked so lost; his shoulders slumped forward, still as a corpse.

Perfect timing, she though to herself.

She quietly unlocked the door, pulling it gently in toward her body, bristling slightly at the cold winter air. He didn't turn to face her, but she could tell he was aware of her presence; they had a knack for doing that. They could always tell when the other was near; it was almost like an electrical current that flowed between them. She couldn't tell you how many times she knew he was in the room before she even saw him.

Sharon crossed her arms over her chest in a futile attempt to protect herself from the harsh cold of winter, shivering in her thin clothes. She plodded towards the railing soundlessly, stopping just beside the man in question. She propped her hip against the frozen wood, staring silently at his face, willing him to look at her. She saw his eyes dart to the side as if noticing her for the first time, but she knew better.

Sharon cleared her throat, starting to speak…

"I'm sorry," he said simply.

Her eyes widened under her glasses as her breath caught in her throat.

He leaned back and slipped off the railing to lean up against the wood, mirroring her position. She noticed that he had had time to go home and change, idly wondering just how late was it?

He was dressed lightly for such a cold night; a black v-neck sweater over what she believed was a green under shirt. His light wash Levis, so well worn they seemed to be like a second skin, along with his favorite Nikes completed the picture. It was then that she realized she was still in her dress from earlier; she self-consciously looked down at her bare feet.

"For everything," he continued, "and I've done a lot of thinking."

Her head snapped up at that admission, looking at his face with open curiosity. He never looked up from his own feet, content to get this over with it seemed.

"I don't…" she started.

He sighed dejectedly, "Red, will you let me finish?"

She nodded her understanding, trying to ignore the once beloved nickname.

"I never should have let any of this happen," he stopped carefully choosing his next words, not seeing the look of horror on her face.

"I was too involved beforehand, and I never should have pressured you…you were in no state…"

He seemed to be at a loss for words, but Sharon knew Andy would find his footing once again, so she waited patiently.

He cleared his throat again, "Maybe you're right…maybe too much time and water have passed…."

It was then that she saw it fit to intervene; stepping forward she captured his face between her hands, similar to the way she had done with Rachael's earlier. His eyes finally connected with hers, and she saw what she had been missing all these years. Andy searched her eyes, looking for something…although she wasn't quite sure what, but a few moments later he seemed to find what he were searching for.

He slipped his hands around her waist, pulling her gently closer to his body. She let her hands fall from his face to gently fold around his shoulders, burying her face in his neck. Sharon inhaled his scent; instinctually knowing that had been one of the many things she had missed over the years. The feel of his lips on the crown of her head made tears spring to her eyes as she nuzzled deeper into his chest.

Sharon suddenly felt the wind whip her dress around her knees, sending chills through her body.

"Let's finish this conversation inside," she smiled sweetly at him, "we still have a lot to talk about."

Andy slowly released her waist while Sharon slide her hands down his arms to intertwine their fingers, her hands dwarfed by his larger ones. She led him back through the front door, softly closing and securing the locking mechanism. They walked hand in hand through the familiar hallway, weaving in and out of the shadows as they crossed the threshold to the kitchen.

She let go of his hand as she turned slightly in his direction, tossing a silly grin over her shoulder. He was startled by the light overhead as she flicked on the switch.

"Would you like some coffee?" she questioned lightly.

Andy grinned from ear to ear; maybe things were finally looking up for them, "Sounds great."

Sharon turned back around to face the counter, when she felt something sharp prick the bottom of her foot. She let out a whimper of pain, mindful of the sleeping occupant upstairs.

"Damn it!" she cursed under her breath.

He was suddenly at her side, steadying her with a hand on her arm, "You ok?"

"Fine," she winced as she brought her foot up to rest on her knee, "just stepped of some glass."

"Glass?" she could hear the confusion in his voice.

She sighed dramatically, "Before you got here I was making my self something to eat and pouring a glass of milk when I heard Rachael scream."

Andy looked at her as she grabbed the dishtowel from the edge of the sink. She tried in vain to stem the flow of blood, when she looked up to see the concern evident on his face.

"I forgot I dropped the jug of milk…it shattered all over the floor." She explained.

"Is she still having nightmares?"

Sharon hissed in pain as she applied pressure to the cut, "Not as often as she used too, but occasionally yes."

"Here let me help you," he said.

Before she could protest, he had scooped Sharon up in his arms, gently setting her down on her kitchen counter. He tenderly brought her foot up towards his face, looking for any pieces of glass that seemed to be imbedded in the soft underside. She felt her face go hot as a blush washed over her cheeks, desperately trying to keep the hem of her dress from riding up. Reassured that no shards were in the bottom of hr foot, Andy lowered her leg to rest on the counter.

"Do you have a first aid kit?" he asked, voice low and soothing.

Sharon pointed wordlessly towards the cabinet just to the left of the fridge. He followed her finger, opening the door to find a red and white case situated neatly on the lowest shelf. She didn't take her eyes off of him the entire time, watching the play of his muscles beneath the dark sweater. She swallowed heavily when he sat the kit next to her thigh on the counter, his warm palm brushing gently against her exposed skin. He then proceeded to take off his sweater, the green of the undershirt playing nicely with his well-toned arms.

"Now this may sting," he warned opening the lid of the kit.

He produced a few packs of sterile gauze and a small bottle of antiseptic. He carefully unscrewed the lid and poured a generous amount of the liquid onto the cotton, humming quietly to him self. Sharon braced her self as his hand moved slowly up her calf, steadying her leg, while applying the antiseptic to the bottom of her foot. His hand began to rub up and down her appendage, meaning to be soothing but driving her crazy instead.

It unexpectedly hit her as she watched this wonderful man tend to her needs once again. She was so lucky to have him…to be what he wanted, and more importantly that she wanted him. She choked back a sob, reaching her hand out to gently caress the salt and pepper hair she loved so much.

"Andy," she said breathlessly.

His head swiftly rose from his task when the tone of her voice registered in his mind. She gently clutched his hand and pulled him upwards, until he was standing between her legs, his hands cradling her own.

Her eyes seemed to dart back and forth, taking in the love and devotion so openly displayed on his handsome features. Sharon's vision began to cloud, the tears threatening to spill over her lashes. Andy's eyes shifted from the iridescent green orbs that had kept him captivated all these years to the pale pink lips he'd missed just as much. He bent his head forward, hoping that she would meet him half way…pleasantly surprised when she rose to the challenge.

Her lips were as soft and pliant as he remembered, although this kiss was different from the one shared a few nights ago or even the ones shred many years ago. This was a declaration…an acceptance of what was to come and a promise to endure the hardships. It was an end to the previous story as well as the beginning to their next chapter, the life they should have had.

Sharon closed her eyes as she felt Andy's velvety lips cover her own, possessing but not overbearing. Love and acceptance were felt in the kiss…patience for what would happen next. She groaned quietly as she felt his hands slip into her hair, gripping the back of her head passionately, her legs instinctually curling around his hips. As she pulled him closer he deepened the kiss, pouring every emotion he was feeling into that one specific action.

Just a quick as it began, Sharon felt Andy begin to ease his grip and pull back slightly. He placed sweet kisses to the corner of her mouth, both eyelids, and then the tip of her nose. He leaned back gripping her cheeks softly in his hands, a goofy smile plastered across his lips.

Unable to stand it any longer, Sharon let a watery smile bloom across her face, sucking in a deep breath to compose her self. Then she let three little words slip from her tongue.

"I love you," she whispered brokenly.

The grin on his face said it all; this was right…being here with him was right…it felt natural.

Andy pulled Sharon in for another tight embrace whispering desperately into her hair, his voice vibrating against her ear.

"Finally...I missed you Red."

The End.

PS: Stay tuned for more stories...I have a few in the works as we speak :)