Monsters Old and New
Chapter VI: Hope
He always waited for the patrol car inside. He'd sit on a bench near the doors and pretend to play games on his phone while keeping both eyes alert and scanning for the telltale black and white. Then he'd rush out the door as quickly as he could without actually running, head up, daring anyone to say something. No one ever did.
Today, though, he left chess club to find a message from Sharon waiting for him. Parked around the corner. Look for my car.
He wondered how long it had taken her to type.
And then it occurred to him to wonder why Sharon was here herself, and this time he ran without caring who saw. Because Sharon was never free on a weekday afternoon so it must be important, and if it was important... His feet slapped against the pavement to the rhythm of his heart in his chest. Was she here to tell him that she couldn't keep him safe?
He slowed when he saw the car, parked where she said that it would be. He studied Sharon through the windshield, trying to gauge her mood by her expression. Her eyes were on her lap, but her face was relaxed, and instead of the suit she'd put on that morning she was wearing a deep green shirt and blazer. And jeans, he saw, as he came around towards the door. He wasn't sure what it meant that she was here and dressed so casually, but his apprehension held as he rapped on the window for her to let him in.
"Hey," he said cautiously, sliding into his seat.
There was a book in her hands and that reassured him some, because when was the last time he'd seen her read?
She turned to set it on the backseat, and then she looked at him. "I would've waited around front, but I remember that when my children were your age, they preferred that I provide them with food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and discretionary funds from a distance. It was too embarrassing, otherwise."
Rusty was never sure how she wanted him to respond when she spoke of her children. He knew how much she loved them.
"You must never have sent a police car to pick them up, then," he said at last. "You're at least five times less embarrassing than that."
"Is that meant to be a compliment?"
"I thought you had a tremendous capacity for ingratitude or whatever." He was breathing easier, he noticed, responding to her calmness. Rusty took a deep breath and braced himself for the worst. "So, um, why are you here? Is everything okay?"
She laid her hand on his shoulder, and he knew everything would be all right when she smiled. "Everything's fine, honey."
She told him everything as they sat right there in the car, how Phillip Stroh had once represented a man who had implicated DDA Garnett as an accomplice. He'd lost that case, in the end, but he'd sat on that information and taken advantage of it when cornered. How he'd passed a message to DDA Garnett through his cellmate, instructing him to help Phillip Stroh find his way out of prison. And, finally, how DDA Garnett had admitted as much before confessing to what they already knew.
When she reached the end of the tale, they sat in sober silence. Rusty folded his arms across his chest and stared out of the window while Sharon quietly radiated anger and sadness and something else.
"What happens now?" he asked.
"Well," she said, "they both have prison to look forward to. As to what will happen with Phillip Stroh... I don't know. We'll have to wait and see."
"More waiting," he muttered.
"I'm afraid so. I don't like it any more than you do."
"But I get to stay with you?"
That was the thing. He could deal with anything else, as long as he could keep his home, and her.
"Okay," he said. "Good."
"In fact..." Sharon smiled at him again. "I think it might be safe to lift some of the restrictions on you."
Rusty stared when she pulled the keys from the ignition and offered them to him. "You're letting me drive your car?"
"I want to be sure you remember how," she told him. "Before you take the spare car to school tomorrow."
She'd never let him drive her car before. He eyed the keys in her hand.
"I can take the car again?"
"Can I run the siren?"
Her fingers curled around the keys.
"Kidding," he said, and she dropped the keys into his hand with a look filled with equal parts affection and warning. That was a rule not to break, then.
When he stepped out of the car to change places with her, they were of equal height. Rusty blinked and glanced at her feet. Her heels were shorter than usual and that was funny, because he must've seen her barefoot in the apartment hundreds of times and he'd never once noticed that he was taller than she was.
"I thought we might go out for burgers," she said as she snapped her seatbelt into place.
He looked at her sideways. "You don't even like burgers."
"You do," she said. "And I believe I owe you a story."
The therapy thing. He should've known she wouldn't let that go, not after he'd promised to consider it. But he had promised, and if she was keeping up her end of the deal... "You're bribing me?"
She just smiled at him in answer, and Rusty sighed. "Where to?"
"You pick," she said, and settled back in her seat.
He brought them to a little out of the way diner. Quiet enough that they could talk, loud enough that no one would overhear the conversation. It wasn't his favorite place, or even in the top ten, but he didn't want the best places tainted with this memory if the conversation didn't go so well and the food was good enough, anyway.
He asked for a soda. Sharon ordered coffee, and stared into it for a long time.
"What do you want to know?" she said at last.
"What happened to you?"
She wrapped her fingers around the mug. "Nothing happened, exactly. There was no one traumatic experience, just a... slow build up of many little things over time."
"What sort of things?"
He was pressing, he knew, and even if she'd promised to tell him, he still felt little pinpricks of guilt for the look on her face. It was unhappy and pained, and her shoulders hunched inwards as if she wanted to protect herself.
At last she said, "Everything I'm about to tell you I've only ever discussed with my therapist and my priest, and I ask that you not repeat it to anyone."
"I'm not going to tell anyone, Sharon." He couldn't help but bristle at the accusation—hadn't he spent hours and hours trying to argue his way out of testifying because he wanted to keep his secrets his own?
"I felt for a very long time that I'd failed my children," she said, her voice low and halting. "Because I believe very strongly that children deserve loving, involved parents and I was unable to provide them with that despite my best efforts."
Rusty frowned at her. "That wasn't your fault."
"Still," she said. "After Jack and I separated, they saw him very little, and I worked long hours. I was unable to be there for them the way I wanted to be."
She paused, and he was bursting with questions that he didn't ask because he wasn't sure that she would open up again if he interrupted. And then he thought of the uncomfortable queasy feeling that swelled in his stomach every time they talked about Kris when he wondered if this would be the time she asked are you, because then he would have to lie and he didn't want to do that to her, and he thought that maybe some of the things he wondered were things he had no right to know.
"Then," she continued, oblivious to his train of thought, "there were a lot of reasons I transferred into internal affairs, and none of them were because I thought it would make me well-liked. I knew what I was signing up for, but it was still very... difficult, sometimes, to be always investigating my fellow officers." Her lip curled and he wondered what she was thinking about, but she didn't elaborate. "That wore on me after awhile."
"So you went to a therapist."
"Eventually." She nodded. "I resisted the idea for a long time."
"Because," she said, and raised her head at last to give him a pointed look. "I always knew that the overlying issues could be fixed. That wasn't a question. But I had become someone I didn't like, and I was afraid there was no solution for that."
Rusty flinched, and stared down at his hands. He couldn't look at her.
He knew what he'd done, he'd told her once, and he knew why he'd done it. And that was true. But it wasn't so easy to accept, and when he thought of himself before compared to after... he was hurt and he was angry, and he knew he lashed out at her sometimes when she didn't deserve it just because she was there and he needed to scream. Because if he let go of the anger he was afraid of what he would find underneath.
"Think about it," she said gently.
When their food came, Sharon just picked at hers, and Rusty felt a little guilty about that too. She really didn't like burgers and he was prying into her personal life on top of that, but... On the other hand, she'd gotten what she'd wanted, because he was mulling it over while he ate.
"You think it would help?" he asked, twirling a french fry through ketchup. "The therapy."
"I do," she said. "In time."
Rusty was tired of waiting. He wanted things to start happening.
"How long does it take?"
"Weeks," she said. "Months. Eventually, I forgave myself. I forgave Jack. Mostly. And life went on. Time helped, too."
It was a little easier now, than it had been before. Now that he knew he could trust her. She wouldn't beat him or threaten him or starve him, and he went to bed every night knowing that he wouldn't be woken by fighting in the middle of the night.
But there were still things that he carried with him everywhere he went, and she was right about that too. It was wearing on him.
"Why didn't you make me go?" he asked. "If you're so sure it would help."
"Because," she told him, "I was afraid if I pushed you it would do more harm than good, and I would lose you. I didn't want you to feel cornered. I wanted you to have some control over your life."
No one could ever accuse her of not knowing him.
"So," she prodded. "You said you would think about it."
"Yeah." He stared down at his hands, stained with grease and flecks of ketchup. "I did."
"There's nothing wrong with testing out different therapists until you find one that's a good fit," she said. "I'll give you a few days to think about it, okay?"
He nodded, but part of him had known the moment that he'd agreed to her her out, this would would end with him agreeing to see the stupid shrink if he could just talk himself to doing it.
"Thanks," he said, and he hoped it sounded as sincere as he meant it. "For telling me."
Sharon smiled at him over her coffee cup. It was tight-lipped and strained, and he wondered what memories she'd dredged up for his sake. "Of course, honey."
"I really will think about it."
"I hope so," she said, and gently added, "But whatever you decide, I want you to know... I'm proud of you, and I love you."
"I—I know." Her words wrapped around him like an embrace. He swallowed, suddenly awkward for all that he treasured it. "It really does get better?"
"It does." She nodded. "But sometimes, Rusty, it's not just about getting better. Sometimes, it's about having the skills to cope with the bad days, because there are always going to be bad days."
"You have bad days?"
She gave him a patiently amused look. "I would say I've had a bad couple of months."
And he thought, again, of how withdrawn she'd been after Jack left, and the lines that had been around her face these last few weeks after everything with the letters, but she still went about her day like nothing was wrong and talked with him about school and... he'd like the ability to do that. To work through the bad thoughts and the memories and everything else, and to just get up and keep living.
So he did what he'd promised her, and he thought about it. While he argued with her over ordering dessert, while he drove them home and only almost worried her twice, while he studied for the history quiz he had to re-take because his teacher thought the third amendment was worth knowing after all.
And while he was teetering on the precipice of the decision that he wasn't quite ready to make, there was another, smaller one that he was.
Not ready enough to tell her himself, but ready enough that he thought she should know.
After she'd gone to bed for the night he left the note taped to the bathroom mirror, where she would be sure to see it when she woke in the morning.
Love you too.
Closing Notes: ... Huh, that's not the ending I had in mind at all but IT'S FINISHED and it's finished before the hiatus ends and maaan, the odds were not in favor of that happening.
I'm working on a couple of things right now—there's one story where Sharon and Brenda get drunk together after Jack leaves (laugh, cry, or laugh so you don't cry are the options here and I'm still debating between them) and another where Rusty runs away from home so Sharon and Provenza have to go find him, plus a couple of longer things. Hopefully one of these will be posted, um, soonish.
Thank you thank you thank you for all of your wonderful comments. It's been awhile since I've had this much fun in fandom, and you guys are seriously the best people.