Notes: This is still not the episode tag to Poster Boy I meant to write, so... look for that next? At any rate, watching Rusty and Sharon together makes my heart happy.

Wary Hearts

rosabelle

Wine was a sensual thing. Sharon noted the feel of glass between her fingers, the way tension melted from her sore legs as she drew them onto the couch, the smooth cover of a book in her other hand—all these things and more, she felt most keenly as she savored that first sip. It was light and fruity in her mouth, cool on her tongue and warm by the time she felt it in her toes.

Eyes closed, Sharon took another slow sip and exhaled. Relaxed, she set the glass on the coffee table and reached for her phone. A few taps and "Dance of the Swans" began playing softly, comforting in its familiarity. Sharon hummed a few measures and took up her book, sparing a quick glance at her phone as she set it down. Half an hour til bedtime, and she meant to make good use of it decompressing.

If nothing else, she was glad to have her living room back.

Sharon had hardly found her place on the page when the door at the far end of the hall opened. She glanced sideways without turning her head, following a pajama-clad Rusty with her eyes until he padded barefoot into the living room.

"Oh hey, Sharon," he said, pausing to smile at her on his way to the kitchen. "I thought you went to bed already."

"I thought you had too," she said, eyeing him critically. "You're not usually this quiet."

"Oh, um." He hesitated with one hand on the cabinet, and Sharon watched his shoulders tense. "Yeah, I guess."

Sharon silenced the music. "Everything okay?"

"Everything's fine. Busy night, you know how it is."

Sharon closed her book and rose up onto her knees, resting her elbows on the back of the couch as she watched him stir peanut butter with a knife. "Are you sure you don't want to talk about how your dinner went?"

"Yes, okay," he said, an edge to his voice. "I'm sure. Really sure."

Sharon held up her hands. She could wait to hear it. "You're not eating in your room."

Rusty paused with a glass of water in one hand and a sandwich in the other. "Oh my god, Sharon, really?"

"Really." She pointed to the table.

"It's a bedtime snack. Bedtime as in bedroom."

"If you want to eat, you eat at the table."

"You're drinking on the couch."

"In that case," she said, folding her arms, "you can sit with me. But only if you use a plate."

Rusty heaved a long, drawn-out sigh, but when he plopped down at the other end of the couch, there was a plate beneath the sandwich. Considering herself to have chosen the wiser battle, Sharon drew one knee up into her chest and relaxed into the pillow behind her as she watched him eat.

He wore flannel pants and a t-shirt; she had her favorite silk pajama pants and an old, comfortable robe. They didn't usually sit around together in pajamas, and it brought back memories of the late nights she'd spent talking with her children, when they'd reached an age when she could begin to be their friend as well as their mother. Neither her clothes nor her furniture had been so nice back then.

She was still smiling at the memories when Rusty pointed.

"Are you using a coaster for your wine glass?"

"Don't talk with your mouth full." Reminded of it, Sharon reached for her wine.

"Sorry," he mumbled, still chewing. "So, um, it's just the two of us again?"

"So it would seem," she said, taking a long drink and then another. Wine was something she preferred to enjoy slowly, but it was warming up. "I think it'll be nice to get things around here back to normal, don't you?"

"Is Jack okay?"

"Don't worry too much about Jack, Rusty," Sharon advised him, sliding her thumb along the rim of her glass. "He always manages to find his way."

"Where'd he go?"

"I couldn't say."

"He didn't tell you?" Rusty frowned at her over the last of his sandwich.

"He left me a note. I didn't read it. Sometimes, Rusty," she added, when his troubled expression only deepened, "you find yourself unable to hear anymore promises, or excuses."

That, she knew he understood.

"What about you, then?" he asked, setting his plate on the table. "Are you okay?"

"Oh, honey," she said with a little laugh. She clasped her hands around her knee and knit her fingers tightly together to hide how they shook. "I'm fine. Jack and I have been doing this for twenty years. But—it's okay if you like him, you know."

The corners of his mouth twitched in hesitation. "Really?" he asked finally.

"Really," she said. "I like him too. I just don't want to be married to him."

"But... you are married to him."

"Legally separated. There's a difference."

"Divorced is a bigger difference."

"Yes," she agreed calmly. "It's also a path that Jack and I, for reasons that belong to us, have chosen not to walk down."

"Okay, okay," Rusty said, and Sharon decided she hadn't seen him roll his eyes. "Not asking. But Jack said something to me, back at the police station, and I was wondering..."

"Yes?" she prompted. Something in the way Rusty cast his eyes downward made her scoot closer.

"He said that who we are always comes out in the end."

Sharon schooled her face carefully blank, but felt an internal surge of emotion that made her fingers clench and her throat tighten painfully. "And what do you think he meant by that?"

"He told me that—that—well, it doesn't really matter what he told me," Rusty said, with a wince that made her wonder. "Because I don't think he really meant what he said, anyway."

"It's a bad habit of his," she agreed wryly, draining the last of her wine.

"He was looking at me like—like I was supposed to—and I think I knew what he meant, but I don't really know if I'm right, or if he's right, and I—I just don't know."

Rusty stood abruptly, turning away from her. Sharon couldn't see his face, but he raised his hands to his face and stood stiff-shouldered with his back to her. She found herself reaching out and caught herself, curling her fingers into fists instead. There were times when she wanted to just gather him against her, but she wouldn't chance forcing unwanted affection on him.

"It's okay," she said instead, low and urgent. "It's okay, Rusty."

"You don't even know what I'm talking about," he said, voice so choked it broke her heart. "How can you say it's okay?"

"I've a pretty good idea," Sharon said gently. "And I promise you, it's okay."

Oh, but Jack would rue the day he went and opened his mouth. She'd see to it the next time he called.

Rusty stood as he was another moment, shoulders trembling. Then he ran his hands through his hair a few times and sat back down as if there had been no outburst. His face was flushed but his eyes were dry and he was otherwise composed. "Can I ask you something?"

His voice surprised her in its evenness.

"Of course."

"I know I said I didn't want to talk about and I don't really, but I—" He tugged at a loose thread near his knee, wrapping and unwrapping it around his little finger. "How do you know if you love somebody? If you're in love, I mean, because, okay, I love—people, but like family, and... how do you know?"

"That's an excellent question, Rusty," Sharon said, keeping her voice soft. "One that I'm afraid I can't answer. You have to figure out for yourself who you love and how, and at your age that can be really tough. I know it was hard for me, and for both of my children too.

"I can tell you this much," she added, when his face fell. That clearly hadn't been the answer he'd wanted. "Trust yourself, and trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right to you, it probably isn't. Think about that, all right?"

She watched him consider that, the tension slowly leaving his shoulders as he accepted her words. "All right, I guess."

"You guess?" she repeated.

The corner of his mouth turned up into a tentative half-smile. "I guess."

"It's getting late now," she said, smiling in answer as she stood. "And it's a school night. I don't want you falling asleep in class tomorrow."

"I get it," he said, rising as well. "I'm going. And Sharon—thanks."

"I'll always listen." She chanced a step forward, laying a hand ever-so-briefly against his cheek. "Good night, Rusty."

"Night," he echoed.

Sharon stared down the hall long after Rusty disappeared into his room. Then, with a quiet hmm, she removed the dishes to the kitchen and straightened the pillows on the couch, eyeing her forgotten book with a wistful sigh. Maybe tomorrow night.

She took another long glance down the hallway, but the light was off in Rusty's room and the apartment was silent now. With one last look around the living room, Sharon turned off the light, murmuring a short prayer to Saint Joseph on her way to bed.