Sharon sighed as she shut the door softly behind her, and hung her purse on the coat rack. Lights flickered from the living room, and she was momentarily startled- Rusty was usually very good about shutting everything down before he went to bed. As she made her way further into the condo, she found the TV on and tuned to some station that had long ago started showing infomercials. A soft snore brought her attention to the couch, where Rusty was sleeping soundly under a crème throw blanket.
Sharon watched him sleep, smiling at the play of the reflection across his skin, then felt her stomach twist as even in the dim light she saw the remnants of the dark bruise around his left eye highlighted. The excitement of the night meant she hadn't been able to dwell on the next days impending meeting, but looking at Rusty her concerns came rushing back.
Not wanting to wake him, she slipped her boots off before crossing the living room to the TV and switching it off. She approached the couch, and went to pull the blanket over him fully when he stirred and opened his eyes.
"Yes, Rusty, it's me."
"Are you okay?"
Sharon smiled. Rusty hadn't been too happy about her being part of the stakeout to catch the sniper tonight. He hadn't said anything directly, but Sharon could read the subtext in the multiple messages he had sent asking about how it was going, lettering her know he had finished his homework, and now, finding him on the couch instead of his bed.
"Yes, honey, I'm fine. We got him."
Rusty groaned and sat up, blinking blearily at her. "That's good."
She hummed her agreement. "Yes, it is." She sat next to him on the couch, letting out a tired sigh as she relaxed into the cushions and closed her eyes. "Oh, it feels good to sit down. That was a long day."
Rusty nodded, but remained silent. After a moment, Sharon opened her eyes and studied him in the low light of the room. "Is everything okay Rusty? Are you alright?"
She rolled her eyes at his automatic, "I'm fine," and she playfully bumped his shoulder with her own. "It's ok to be nervous about tomorrow. I am."
He looked at her intently. "You are?"
"Why?" Rusty sounded genuinely shocked, and Sharon felt a pang in her heart. Even knowing what he'd been through in his life, sometimes it still struck her just how little he expected from the people around him. She wondered if he'd ever really trust her. She knew he did, in his way, but she wished he could have as much faith in her as she did in him.
"Well, because I want it to go well for you. I want Daniel to be reasonable and sensible, and realize this is the best thing for everybody- but especially you." Sharon's thoughts strayed to Mr. Reyes, and how he had sacrificed his life to save his son. Rusty had no idea that that was what family was supposed to be like. "But I don't think we have to worry."
"Why not?" Rusty gave her a puzzled look, and she laughed softly, leaning back again. "Well, you should have seen the looks that the division was giving Daniel when he came in to talk to me today. Everyone was glaring at him."
She smirked. "I practically had to order Provenza not to arrest Daniel on the spot. And I think I could hear Lt. Flynn growling at him from all the way in my office."
"Really?" Rusty smiled at the image.
Sharon nodded. "Really."
They stayed like that, shoulder to shoulder on the couch for several minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. Without the energy to get up off of the couch, Sharon had begun to doze off when Rusty spoke again.
"Sharon? What happens, you know, if he agrees?"
Sharon opened her eyes. Rusty was looking down, picking at a thread in the blanket with his finger. "With Daniel?"
He shook his head. "No, I mean… what happens with me… if I'm a ward of the state?"
Her heart sunk. She reminded herself for the millionth time that this had always just been temporary- he was always destined to leave. She sighed, choosing her words carefully, needing to hear it from him. "I'm not sure I follow."
He sighed. "Like, I'm not in emergency care anymore. Then once I testify, I won't be a witness anymore, either, so you won't have to keep me to make sure I testify. Then what? Where do I go?"
Sharon froze, and she cursed herself for not addressing this sooner, for allowing him to mistakenly think that his presence was just a function of the trial. His hesitance about getting Daniel to sign off on his parental rights suddenly made much more sense- Rusty wasn't worried about becoming an orphan, he was worried about being abandoned once again.
"Rusty." Taking off her glasses, Sharon sat up and took his picked up his hands, taking them between her own and squeezing gently until he finally met her gaze. "Rusty," she repeated again, "nothing has to change if you don't want it to. And I'm not talking about Daniel," she said hurriedly. "I'm talking about you and me, here. This is your home, for as long as you want it to be."
Rusty didn't look convinced, and Sharon struggled to explain her feelings. "Rusty, this has never been a temporary thing for me." He gave her a look. "OK, well, maybe right at the very beginning, I'll admit I brought you home because I didn't know what else to do with you- but that's because I wanted you safe, not because I wanted you for the trial. And yes, being a ward of the state will probably change your status a little bit legally, and I'm sure we'll have to deal with that." She wanted to tell him that she had no intention of getting rid of him, that as far as she was concerned now her home wasn't home without him in it. But she needed him to have a clear picture of his options in his life, even the ones she didn't like.
"Whatever you want, so long as it's safe, I will support you. Once the trial is over, DDA Hobbs said you could probably apply to be an emancipated minor- meaning you'd be, for all intents and purposes an adult, free to go and do whatever you like." Even in the low light, Sharon could see Rusty visibly pale at this idea. "Or, we can look into other options- boarding schools, other programs- whatever you want to do, I will help you make that happen." The more she spoke about his other options, the more dejected Rusty's face got, and she had to restrain herself from pulling him into her arms and holding him close.
"However," she paused for a moment, trying to find the most convincing way to say what she was thinking " I want you to understand that you don't have to go anywhere. Nothing has to change unless you want it to. If Daniel signs off tomorrow, then we'll figure things out with Cynthia to make this permanent. If he doesn't sign off, we will fight him in court, or have him arrested, or do whatever we have to. But you will not have to go live with him, or anywhere else you don't want to. It's your decision."
When Rusty still looked uncertain, she continued. "But, I want you to know that if it were up to me, I'd want nothing more than to keep you here." He looked up at her then, his brown eyes wide and questioning. "I mean it. I may not be your mother, but I care for you just as much as I would if I was. Mother's fight for their children, and I will fight for you."
She paused, waiting for his response, concerned that she had said too much. Rusty seemed to consider her words, then after a long moment met her gaze and asked sheepishly, "So, if I want to stay here, that's alright with you?"
"Rusty." Sharon reached over to put her arm around his shoulders. Just as he had the other day, he stiffened at the contact for a second, then relaxed, allowing her to pull him close to her. "Of course it's alright- I would like nothing more. Okay?" She felt him nod into her shoulder, and she gave him a light squeeze, then ran her fingers through his bedraggled mop of blonde hair. He sighed and instead of pulling away, seemed to settle into the embrace a little closer.
They remained that way for several minutes, until Sharon heard a soft noise. Careful not to disturb him, she leaned over and confirmed her suspicion that he had fallen asleep, his head still resting on her shoulder. She considered waking him so that they could get some sleep in their beds, but instead she shifted her body to lean up against the pillows at the arm of the couch, and brought his head to rest in the crook of her elbow, and with her own tired sigh, closed her eyes.