A/N: With all the mentions of this on the show, it was impossible for my mind not to go there. We all know how Sharon feels on the 'mother' issue, but it's unclear how Rusty feels, and whether, in Provenza's words, he's 'over his mother enough'. This is my take on Rusty's reaction when he hears the M-word spoken in reference to Sharon.
This has been swirling around in my head for a while, but I wanted to post it before 'Rusty opens up to Dr. Joe about his mom' (!) in tomorrow's episode, which will probably render most of this very AU-ish.
All the Wrong Words
A half-finished cup of tea stood on Sharon's desk, two strings sticking out over the side. Rusty smiled at the sight: it meant that today was one of those days when Sharon hadn't been able to make up her mind, and so she'd just combined two tea bags. Which he thought was ridiculous because you couldn't really feel any taste in tea anyway, but Sharon claimed that she could and that his taste buds were just atrophied from too much soda…
A sudden stab of anguish broke into his thoughts, and his smile vanished.
He passed both hands through his hair and leaned forward in his chair. What had he done? He hadn't meant to, of course, of course it hadn't been intentional because whatever anyone said he'd never do that on purpose, but it had happened anyway and now…
It had all started as an argument with Emma. It hadn't even been a real argument, just some stupid, stupid bickering because she was once again trying to butt into his life and he was just reminding her that she didn't own him…
"Absolutely not!" Her voice had climbed at the end in a slightly nasal way, as it tended to do when she was annoyed, which was not exactly infrequent.
"Okay, I wasn't asking for your permission, I don't need your permission Emma –"
"You are my material witness, and when I find you getting all chummy with Stroh's lawyer –"
It had seemed like such a big deal at the time, his indignation that he was getting his head bitten off because of some random guy who'd approached him in the hallway and asked for directions to some office or other. Now, he wished he'd just gone with whatever Emma wanted.
"…told you to stop running around the building like it's your… playground! Just stay in the squad room –"
"Are you kidding me? I'm already on house arrest basically, this building is the only place where I can go! What's the big deal if I use the coffee rooms on the other floors every now and then? Sharon says it's okay."
"Of course she does." And Emma had rolled her eyes with an exasperated sigh.
Guilt welled up in Rusty's stomach, and he hunched further in his seat, his eyes wandering over the familiar shapes of Sharon's office. This time, they offered no comfort. He didn't even know why exactly he felt so horrible, only that there was an icy fist squeezing at his insides whenever he thought about what had happened.
"Well I'm not locking myself in a conference room just so you don't have to worry about who I run into."
Emma had looked exasperated, hands on her hips and everything. "Are you getting just how much against the rules it is to have you wandering around this entire police station?"
"Sharon doesn't think –"
"Oh my god, she's catering to you because she can see you're bored! That doesn't make it any less inappropriate!"
"Why don't you take it up with her, then."
And they'd both known that she didn't need to bother taking her latest complaint up with Sharon, it was clear exactly how that would go, and knowing that he had the upper hand had made Rusty wriggle his eyebrows victoriously, and Emma had looked like she'd been about to start blowing steam out her ears…
It had been such a stupid, small argument, so not even worth it.
"Okay, this building is filled with potential conflicts of interest for the case, and I don't care what –"
A noise broke into his thoughts, the clicking of familiar heels, and Rusty looked up almost desperately, and there she was, a few feet away from the office door, he could see her through the glass. She noticed him when he straightened up in his seat and she actually faltered a little in her steps, imperceptibly, and that made his stomach clench because it told him that she was actually , what – afraid? wary? uncomfortable? – to see him, and that was just the most awful thing in the world.
It had been only the briefest of hesitations, and in the next second Sharon reached for the doorknob and stepped into her office, and Rusty rose to his feet automatically, his heart pounding loudly in his ears. He met her eyes and he could tell, behind her composed visage, that she was nervous, too, and unsure, and that he'd made Sharon feel that way…
"Okay, this building is filled with potential conflicts of interest for the case, and I don't care what your mother says, you're not supposed to be roaming the halls…!"
He cringed at the echo of the words in his mind.
"Sharon…" he pleaded, though he didn't know for what. "I… I didn't… I'm sorry–"
"Rusty," she said calmly, and her soft voice might have been reassuring if it hadn't been just a note too low, a bit too steady, "there's nothing to be sorry about. You haven't done anything wrong."
If he hadn't done anything wrong then why did he feel like he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him?
He didn't think he'd ever forget her expression. The way she'd paused, frozen, in the door to the murder room, her hands crossed over a thick folder that she held against her chest like a barrier.
"No – Sharon…" Rusty rubbed his hands to his face, and for a second she moved as though she wanted to take a step closer, but then she visibly pulled herself back and he could feel tears in his eyes. "Sharon…"
She looked every bit as miserable as he felt, but she was giving him the most compassionate look, as though she felt sorry for him…which okay, he felt pretty sorry for himself, but…
"It's alright, Rusty," she repeated in the same distantly-soothing tone. "It's normal to feel a little uncomfortable over what happened earlier, but you don't owe me, or anyone, any explanations." She gazed at him with such understanding, and it made everything just harder.
"…filled with potential conflicts of interest for the case, and I don't care what your mother says, you're not supposed to be roaming the halls…!"
He'd felt thrown for a moment, an almost sort of icy anxiety washing over him, and then his jaw had clenched and his hands balled into fists. "Sharon. Is not. My mother."
And there had been the slight dawning of consternation on Emma's face, and the visible cringe on Buzz's, who was at the nearest desk, and Rusty had felt a sudden pang of horror and turned around…
He cringed again as the memory set his stomach twisting. "I … Sharon, I didn't mean to make you…I didn't realize…"
"I know," Sharon said, in that casual tone that made his stomach drop. "Rusty, I know. Honey – you didn't offend me and you don't need to apologize."
But her breath had hitched imperceptibly after speaking the endearment, a fleeting uncertainty crossing her face, and it made Rusty clench his fists because this wasn't what he'd meant at all!
"I understand how you feel –" she continued patiently, and he just couldn't bear it –
"No," he shook his head desperately, "no, you don't understand, I didn't mean… I know what you're…I know what you've done for me, I didn't –" In his desperation to explain, he even took one step toward her, and was horrified to notice her stiffening ever-so-slightly. "Please, Sharon… " his voice broke, "please don't be…"
"I'm not mad," she reassured him, only it wasn't actually reassuring since he knew that she wasn't mad. Just like he knew what he'd done, and even as she stood there trying to play it down, he could see she'd been knocked off-kilter and it was all so awful he didn't even want to deal with it.
He'd never seen Lt. Provenza look so stricken, he hadn't thought that the man's facial muscles could even pull off that kind of profound, sympathy-filled dismay.
And after Sharon had left the murder room with Emma, the Lieutenant had just shaken his head, with a long sigh, and he'd given Rusty a look that had made the boy feel about one inch tall. It hadn't even been an angry look; worse, Provenza had almost seemed sorry for him, too.
Rusty had taken off running after Sharon. He hadn't even known what to tell her but he had to tell her something… Only he'd turned the corner just in time to see her and Emma enter Taylor's office, and then it had been too late.
He'd sunk to the little bench outside the Chief's office, head bowed, elbow on his knees. It was the same place where Sharon had waited for him that one day, when Emma had found the letters.
Whatever happens next, know I love you.
He couldn't believe what had just happened, his mind had just refused to wrap around the enormity of it.
"Emma…" Sharon had adopted that reserved expression of hers, and he'd known that quiet, composed voice, it had been like a cold knife through his stomach. "Chief Taylor would like to discuss Mr. Parker's deal… would you mind accompanying me to his office?"
Everyone in the room had been in aghast silence, and even Emma had looked at Sharon with something too close to sympathy, and if he'd made Emma look like that, just how bad was it?
He'd yelled at her, he couldn't believe he was yelling at her, what the hell was even wrong with him?
"No, damn it Sharon you're not listening!"
And she'd jumped a little at the angry outburst and Rusty felt even worse, and he could see her lips press together and the shine of unshed tears in her eyes…
"I'm sorry… !" He didn't know how else to say it.
She tilted her head a little, her gaze warm even though her smile looked so forced it set his teeth grinding. "Don't give it another thought," she advised in a kind tone, as if that were even possible, as if he could think about anything else. "I… I'm sorry, I need to…" She took a step back and cleared her throat. "There's a suspect interview…" she said hurriedly, her tone too low again.
"Sharon…" He couldn't stop saying her name, he'd said it a hundred times, as if somehow it would make her understand. But it wasn't, and now here she was beating a retreat from her own office…
"I – if you want to… discuss this further, we can do it…later," she offered, then waved a dismissive hand, "but really, there's nothing to worry about and you should… put it out of your mind," she finished, and then with one last, tight smile she was gone and he wanted nothing more than to crawl into a deep, dark hole and stay there forever.
"You knew this was coming."
The young DDA had looked surprised at the soft-spoken words, but Sharon didn't think Taylor had meant them callously, and she'd just acknowledged with a brief nod.
She had known it. Rusty was a teenager and he was under tremendous stress and she wasn't his… she wasn't Sharon Beck, and she'd known that at some point, he might throw that at her in a fit of teenage anger. During some heated dispute that was bound to happen between any mother and – between any … two people in their position, he might fall back on that fact – because it was a fact, legally and biologically and in a lot of other ways she didn't give a damn about – as an irrational, last-ditch argument. God knew her older children had screamed their fair share of hurtful things at her during their own teenage years. It came with the territory, not one of the better parts of it, but one couldn't pick and choose.
So yes, she'd known it. She'd hoped that it wouldn't happen, but children had an instinctive knack for which buttons to push and didn't always have a filter, and so she'd made her peace with the fact that one day she might hear those words from Rusty.
But she hadn't anticipated this.
The few times she'd entertained the possibility, she'd told herself that she'd deal with it just like she'd dealt with Ricky accusing her of not loving them because she worked long hours, or her daughter blaming her first heartbreak on Sharon's own marital shortcomings. By telling herself people said a lot of things when they were angry, things they didn't mean, and teenagers in particular could be vicious, and …
Where were her self-indulging rationalizations now, when he hadn't even known she was there? He hadn't been angry, he hadn't meant to hurt her – oh it was so painfully obvious that he hadn't meant that.
Rusty looked so miserable as he tried to apologize, and it was breaking her heart because how could she expect him to apologize for what he was feeling? Worse, he thought that he owed it to her somehow, and so here he was saying sorry for his feelings and that was all so wrong, so sickeningly wrong.
So no, she couldn't explain it away as him lashing out at her, and much as Sharon hated it there was nothing left to do but face that he'd said what he had because that's what he thought, and that was fine, it was normal and reasonable and perfectly fine and she had no right to feel the way she did about it. That she couldn't help herself only made her feel worse.
She'd thought that their growing attachment was a good thing. It was certainly a good thing for her, but how had she never stopped to wonder whether it was unfair to him, in some way? The last thing Rusty needed in his life was more pressure, and that was exactly what he was getting right now and it was all her doing.
"Sharon…" He'd said her name a dozen times over, each time a plea, each plea another blow to her heart because she could see how awful he felt and there were just no words to make it better. But this was her failing, not his. She was the adult. She'd known what she was getting into and she'd done it willingly and she'd even known it might hurt her, but she'd never anticipated it might turn into a source of distress for him…!
How could she explain to Rusty that there was nothing to be sorry for, without making it seem like she felt anything less for him than she did?
How could he believe that he didn't owe her an apology when his words stood between them like a chasm and she couldn't even begin to think of how to cross it?
Emma didn't feel bad, not exactly, after all she hadn't done anything wrong… but she'd done something and it sure as hell didn't feel right... even though it wasn't her fault, obviously, and maybe it was all for the better because really, that relationship was the worst thing to ever happen to her career, but…
She hadn't known what to say, earlier, on the way to Taylor's office, when Raydor had been walking in silence half a step ahead, her head slightly turned away to conceal her expression. And again, Emma hadn't meant to be feeling bad, because she really hadn't done anything, but…
That kid was going to cause her to turn prematurely gray. He'd been looking so goddamn smug, throwing it in her face that his guardian (damn it) was letting him run wild, and Emma had been just about to spare the letters psycho the effort and strangle him herself…
" – and I don't care what your mother says, you're not supposed to be roaming the halls…!"
It had slipped, okay? She hadn't done it on purpose, and she hadn't even realized what his problem was for a second. Rusty had looked ready for another sarcastic retort (of course), but then confusion had flashed over his features, followed by alarm… then his countenance had turned dark, and Emma had realized what she'd said and worse, she'd seen Raydor walking into the room and had had a split-second warning...
And now everything was tense and everyone was walking on eggshells and there was just this big elephant in the room that was making her skin crawl.
Even as Raydor directed the interview from electronics with all professionalism, Emma could see the increased deliberateness in the woman's words and movements, and the way her tone was so low and composed. It was all a little weird, honestly, because she certainly didn't sympathize, but still.
In Taylor's office earlier, it had been even worse. After a brief discussion of the deal, the Chief had brought up the incident with Stroh's lawyer, and suddenly Rusty had become the topic of conversation, and Taylor had kept going on about conflicts of interest, and parents, and children, and was the man blind or something?!
Raydor's already tense posture had stiffened more each time he mentioned the words, and Emma had no idea how the Captain had kept that calm expression in place.
"…any parent is tempted to give in to their child, but if there is a conflict of interest…"
"…and we can't just allow our love for them to dictate bad decisions…"
"…all want to give our children what's best, but…"
"…and Captain, as a parent –"
"Oh my god, stop." Emma had surprised even herself, but she just hadn't been able to bear hearing Taylor blithely go on about it…
The whole thing was just…
And now here they were, watching Flynn and Sanchez wrap up their witness interview, and the electronics room seemed too small to contain the general air of unease. Raydor's expression was impenetrable but for the tight lines around her eyes and mouth, and she was going about business as usual but there was just something…
She found herself turning abruptly to the Captain. "Look – I'm sorry, about what I said to Rusty. I didn't realize…"
But Raydor only gave a brief handwave, her arms crossed tight against her chest. "I said it to you, myself," she acknowledged in a neutral tone, "there's nothing to apologize for."
Emma shook her head. "I'm sure he didn't mean… he says things… he's a teenager, he has no idea what he's talking about!"
The only other person left in the room, Buzz, seemed to give some vague nod of agreement. The Captain only attempted a smile that ended up looking more like a grimace, and shifted slightly on her feet, hands absently rubbing her arms as she continued to keep her attention determinedly on the computer screens.
When they left the room a minute later, Rusty was waiting a small distance down the hall, and he intercepted them, his hands wringing nervously and his expression uncomfortable as he pleaded: "Sharon – can we talk?"
And the Captain paused and adopted that mild smile that screened whatever else she was thinking, and said in a soft tone: "Talk about what?" As if that wasn't obvious. Emma took a few steps to give them some semblance of privacy, not that there was any chance for real privacy in the middle of the corridor.
"About – earlier. I … " He trailed off. "What I meant was…"
He paused again, and after a moment Raydor sighed. "Rusty… I already told you that you don't owe me any explanations. Please don't trouble yourself thinking that you do – " she briefly squeezed his shoulder, with a smile that sadly looked nowhere near as convincing as she probably thought it did, " – everything's fine." She cocked her head slightly and arched her eyebrows: "Did you finish your –"
But then she paused, and Emma cringed, because it was clearthat she was going to ask him if he'd finished his homework or something, and it was obvious why she'd paused, and the kid couldn't possibly have missed it, either…
" – homework?" The Captain recovered, but nowhere near soon enough, and Emma could tell that she knew it, too, a flash of dismay rippling through her composure.
Rusty's expression turned heartbreakingly wretched. "Sharon, please…"
She bit her lips. "Honey, I'm sorry – I don't…" Her voice grew thicker and she shook her head, taking a step back. "You didn't do anything wrong, okay? Please…" she joined her hands in an entreating gesture, "just… don't think that."
And with that, she turned on her heels and hurried down the corridor with rapid, deliberate steps, until she turned the nearest corner and was out of sight.
He'd gone after her again. The third time, or maybe fourth, he'd lost count. He'd wanted nothing more than to hole up in some dark corner in an isolated cubicle and wallow in his misery, yet he'd gone after her again. But every time it was getting worse, first in her office and then outside electronics (Rusty's eyes filled up) and then the last time near Chief Taylor's office, where he'd cornered her again (because that's what it felt like and it felt awful) and Sharon had visibly braced herself even as she stopped to listen to him…and then some guy had turned on his police escort in the hallway, and it must have been so bad, for her to look almost relieved to be dealing with a berserk suspect, instead.
But she was wrong.
That's why he kept going after her.
She had it all wrong, and he knew why she had it all wrong, but he had to make it right somehow. He had to believe there was a way to make it better, if only Sharon would listen – no, if she could listen, because she'd stopped every time when he'd asked but they just hadn't been able to get through a conversation…
From his desk near the corner he saw her walk into the murder room again. She glanced at him with the briefest smile before she headed for her office, and there was still that tightness in her expression and Rusty couldn't, he just couldn't bear her to think what she was thinking, not a second longer, and obviously now was the wrong time because everyone was there and he was almost across the room from her, but he felt himself rising to his feet anyway.
"My mother abandoned me." His voice quivered but he spoke every word clearly, and loud enough that it almost echoed in the murder room, which fell eerily silent. Sharon paused in her tracks and turned toward him, a little unsure, a little sad for him.
His entire body wanted to start shaking but he clenched his fists and tensed his shoulders and kept upright and kept talking. "She left me in a Zoo, because she didn't want me and she didn't care what happened to me, and… she had a chance to come back, and she abandoned me again. And – that's what I think of when I think of my mother, I can't help it." He paused, his breath catching, but he could see that she wasn't getting it, so he pushed past the knot in his throat. "That's not what I think of when I think of you, Sharon."
Her lips pressed together, and she gave a shaky nod. "I know," she said in a quiet, muted voice.
But she didn't, he could tell that she didn't, so he swallowed and made the greatest effort to just stand there and look her in the eyes. "I love you."
Sharon's expression softened, her eyes tearing up even more. "I know, honey," but she didn't, he could see it in her expression that she still didn't get it, and she was still thinking the same as before, and… "I love –"
"Like a parent."
He hadn't managed to make that loud and clear, but even his strangled mumble must have been loud enough to get through because finally, finally that awfully restrained, regretful note vanished from her face. Sharon's voice trailed off with a small gasp that she couldn't quite hold back and her expression dissolved into shock.
She stared at him in stunned silence, eyes wide, lips slightly-parted, and he held her gaze as long as he could, because he didn't want her thinking that he didn't mean it… soon, however, he started fidgeting a little, suddenly aware of a lot of other people in the room and very, very, uncomfortable.
His shoulders drew together slightly in a self-conscious shrug. "Can we… " he glanced longingly at the super-cubicle at the far end of the room, and mumbled, "go… somewhere…if…you don't mind…"
Sharon bit her lips, took a few short steps forward to reach his desk and wordlessly held out a hand toward the cubicle in a slow, economic movement that signaled him to walk over, and she followed right behind him when he did.
Rusty paused a few steps in, and turned around, and Sharon was waiting a couple of steps back, hands crossed over midsection and tears in her eyes. She was wearing a calm expression, however, which reassured him somewhat because he'd had no idea what to expect, all bets were kind of off at this point.
He let out a slightly shaky breath. He felt as though he'd just run a marathon.
Sharon was still standing quietly, looking at him, and he was really grateful that she wasn't saying anything or moving much because he was about two seconds away from running for the hills.
Although… it was also a little weird that she was so silent and keeping her distance. Had he overstepped the boundaries in telling her how he felt? Had it make things awkward for –
"Rusty." He looked at her a little warily. Her voice was soft, soothing. "Honey." She tilted her head. "You're giving off mixed signals here."
"Right." He tried to take a step toward her, but it ended up an awkward side-step of sorts, and he rubbed his hands against his pant legs. "I don't…know… what to do here, Sharon…"
"Nothing," she told him quietly, pulling that affectionate look that was somewhere between a smile and an expression of sympathy. "You don't have to do anything at all, Rusty, this doesn't –" she had to clear her throat, " –change … anything, as far as I'm concerned, my home–" she smiled a little tearfully again, "and my love, are yours, regardless, for as long and however you want them. But thank you," she added, low, "for saying what you did, when you didn't have to, and I know how hard it must have been… Rusty…" her voice hitched again, and she tried for another smile, "just…thank you."
His shoulders sagged in a small sigh. "It wasn't hard," he murmured, then he met her eyes again, growing bolder: "Look, I'm sorry about what I said this morning, I didn't mean to make you think …" He grimaced painfully. "My mother…"
"Honey…" She took another step toward him, but he really wanted to say it, so he hurried to do it before he lost his nerve again:
"My mother is…" he gave a sad shrug, "gone. And my so-called 'father'…"
Sharon twitched sympathetically.
He gave her an honest look. "You are my parent, Sharon. I… I don't want you to think that I don't know that," he finished in a bashful whisper, and she gave him that look, that whatever-happens look, the I-will-always-know-you look, the look he'd never seen on anyone else but Sharon…
"I'm glad you know that," she said softly. "And you know that I…I think of you…" her voice caught, and Rusty stared at the floor and nodded earnestly:
Because he did. And he might've been compelled to add something else, but he saw the little unintelligible murmur escape Sharon's lips and suddenly her arms were around him, and he stiffened a little but leaned into it anyway, because this wasn't just about what he was comfortable with.
But of course Sharon knew how he felt, too, and she let go after a few seconds, her arms tightening around him one last time before she pulled back and smiled at him, and Rusty shifted a little awkwardly on the balls of his feet, not knowing what to do with himself now, all of a sudden.
"Uhm… so…" he gave her a little questioning look, and things felt so much lighter now for the first time in… a long time. Although, still a little awkward. Definitely. But Sharon seemed almost amused as she mirrored his look, her eyebrows lifting slightly.
He glanced at the entrance to the super-cubicle, and grimaced, remembering what was beyond it. It was late afternoon and he still had homework and all his things were at the desk in the squad room, but oh…
"Do I have to uh… go back out there… right now…?" Ever? Maybe he could stay in the cubicle until the team all went home for the evening. And then maybe Emma would get her wish, because at the moment he was ready to lock himself into a conference room and never face any of them again.
Sharon smiled, and nodded. "I think everyone can handle our absence for a little while longer," she agreed, and he noticed that she'd said 'our'; her eyes were searching the room thoughtfully, until they landed on the chess set on the desk, the one he'd last used with Dr. Joe… "How would you feel about a challenge?"
He pulled a face, and she arched an eyebrow. "I mean, if you want to play a game, sure," he hurried to say, "but I don't know that I'd call it a 'challenge'…"
Sharon's eyebrow rose, if possible, even higher. "That sounds like you're casting aspersions on my strategic planning skills, young man."
Rusty grimaced, endearingly honest. "It's just that… our last game took like, six minutes."
She hummed, sitting down at the desk and pulling the chess board closer. "Maybe I was just trying to build your confidence."