Warning: This chapter contains some semi-graphic description about murdered children.
Notes: Thank you everyone for all of your comments/support/encouragement! You've all been wonderful to interact with.
When It Rains
Chapter I: Three Children
The first dead boy was Jacob Miller, but it was a day before they learned his name.
The first day, all Sharon knew was that he wasn't Rusty, and that his death had been a cruel one.
When she first saw him laid out on Dr. Morales's table, so small and sandy-haired, there was a moment where she felt wobbly and sick to her stomach, her mouth watering in the way that told her she was about to vomit. She might have, if she were alone. Instead, she forced back the bile and though her knees threatened to, they did not buckle.
"Uh, Captain—" Morales cleared his throat. "I really don't mind doing this out in the hall."
His tone, quiet, serious, and absent of all his usual wit, only threw her more off-kilter.
"Thank you, Doctor, but that's not necessary. I'm all right."
There was a lengthy pause. The periphery of her vision was filled with silent motion and distantly, she heard the hushed whispers that accompanied all the arm waving, but Sharon couldn't take her eyes from the boy.
Then: "Well, if you don't mind, I think I'll listen from the hall."
The words were followed by the departing click of heels and, God. How terrible must she look to have even Emma reacting to her in sympathy?
"Good idea. It's... warmer, out there."
Amy left to join Emma, and Morales waved Sharon towards the door with both hands. "The masses have spoken," he said. "After you, Captain."
Sharon said quietly, "I'll be along in a moment," and stepped closer to the autopsy table. Morales sighed, loud and impatient, but he slipped out of the room and gave her the moment.
She stared down at the boy's face for a long, long time. Up close, he didn't look like Rusty, not really. There was the hair, and something in the shape of his nose made their profiles look similar, but Rusty was taller and his shoulders broader. These were the things that Sharon told herself, because the thought of Rusty, here, with these injuries—She bit down on the inside of her lip until she tasted blood in her mouth.
Sharon laid her gloved fingers against the boy's cheek, and then she exhaled a long breath and went to find his killer.
It was quick work, once they had his name. Jacob's stepmother hardly waited for Lieutenant Flynn to finish the death notification before she burst into noisy tears and told them everything. Her husband, the boy's father, shouted at her to shut up, but she couldn't confess fast enough. Jacob had failed his history test and hadn't cleaned his room, she told them, so his father had beaten him with an electrical cord. Breaking his neck in the process had been an accident, really.
Sharon didn't trust herself to conduct the interview. She sat stiffly beside Buzz and watched from the safety of the electronics room instead, her hands white-knuckled and knit together. There was a moment where she thought he wanted to reach out to her and then she folded her arms and shifted just slightly away.
She knew he worried too.
In the afternoon, she sat down with Jacob Miller's mother and told her why her son was dead. Through the woman's keening, inconsolable sobs, Sharon caught a word or two.
—should've have let him—
—knew his father was violent—
Sharon leaned forward and took the woman's shaking hands in her own.
She came home to a peace and solitude.
She never thought she would hate it so.
She took refuge in routine and found comfort in procedure, and maintaining that was something that she strove for every day. She had always been orderly, even as a child, and she had carried that with her into adulthood. It had given her purpose, restoring order to the chaos her life had become, after she separated from her husband and professionally, it was something that she valued as well after nearly thirty years of working in internal affairs, which had allowed her more regular hours and stability to raise her children.
The routine had changed through the years. Her children had become adults and she'd sold the house. Found herself the condo and cut her commute in half. For the first time in her entire life, she came home to an empty, silent house, and she found that she enjoyed it. She could retreat inside at the end of a long day and relax a glass of wine and her favorite music without being told it was the worst sound in the world or being asked to help with homework when all she wanted to do was take a nap.
And then her routine had changed again, and she'd found herself once more preparing two lunches each night instead of one, attending parent-teacher conferences, and giving driving lessons with as much patience as she could muster (on the especially nerve-wracking days, she allowed herself something a little stronger than wine afterwards).
The fights, too, had been part of her—their—routine, and she'd enjoyed that part much less than the rest, but they had smoothed the edges from each other with time, and peace had settled.
The house was too silent now.
There was nothing now that she wouldn't give for the chance to shout at him.
If she weren't so sick with fear for him, she thought she could be angry.
When they identified the second boy as Adrian Dunn, her heart seized and her throat painfully constricted.
"Dunn?" she croaked out, stopped in her tracks as she paced near the board. "His name is Dunn?"
"We already checked, Captain," Provenza told her. "No relation."
She had to fold the case file to her chest before they saw her hands shook. What did it matter, really, if this boy was a relative of Rusty's? Would she want his death solved any more, or any less?
The boy whose picture was fixed to the white board bore little resemblance to Rusty. His hair was darker, his skin paler, his eyes soft and gray. But there was something—in the shyness of his smile, and the sort of wide-eyed excitement he showed—that reminded her of Rusty and how proud he had been when he'd stood in line for his driver's license photograph. She had been proud of him, too, and so happy that he was experiencing what should be normal milestones in the life of a teenage boy.
She hoped that she'd told him that.
And now Rusty was gone, and Adrian Dunn had bled out from a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
"His family's on their way in, ma'am," Detective Sanchez reported quietly.
Sharon tore her eyes away from the photo. She cleared her throat and lowered her arms, the file in her hands now dog-eared and wrinkled. "Thank you, Detective," she said. "Have Buzz set up the cameras, please."
In the end, Adrian Dunn's death had been an accident. He and his brother Leo knew where their father kept his shotgun, and they'd smuggled it outside. Just to look at, Leo told her tearfully. Just to play with. He hadn't known it was loaded when he'd pointed it at his brother and pulled the trigger. He'd only moved Adrian's body because he was scared; he'd only wrapped his brother in plastic bags and thrown him in the trash because he hadn't known what else to do. He was sorry.
When it was over, Sharon ushered Emma out of the conference room and left the boys' parents to their grief. In a way, they had lost both of their children today.
Wearily, she changed into more comfortable clothing upon arriving home at the conclusion of the long and terrible day. She wrapped the long sweater closely around herself and poured herself a glass of wine from the bottle in the fridge, and she drank it alone on the couch in silence.
Sometimes, she tried watching TV or humming along with one of her CD's, just to break up the monotony a little. She found herself staring at the screen without seeing it, and her voice died before it reached her lips. She didn't have the heart for it.
She always found herself standing in the room at the end of the hall. She'd put Rusty's room back in order after it had been searched top to bottom and twice over, but after that she had tried to stay away. This was still his space, she told herself. This was his sanctuary that she'd prepared for when he came back home, and now she shouldn't violate his privacy anymore by entering.
She always ended up opening the door anyway, just to look. Then she sat on his bed, hugging his pillow close the way she would've held him if he were there, and she looked some more. That was the hardest part. She had organized the room as Rusty had left it, and the way he had left it told her everything. He'd cleaned, and where there would have been clothes strewn across the floor, there was instead a well-vacuumed carpet. He'd even made the bed. When she saw that, she knew that he had left without meaning to return.
She thought her heart couldn't break one time more.
She was wrong.
The third boy.
Oh God, the third boy.
Sharon was in her office when she glanced up to see Dr. Morales standing in the murder room in the midst of a quiet but fierce argument with Lieutenant Provenza, both of them pointing and waving in her direction. Sharon froze, her entire fist curling around then pen she held in her hand.
She knew. She couldn't explain how, but the moment she saw the two of them standing together, a terrible certainty descended upon her, and she knew what the doctor was here to tell her. The knowledge settled over her like a hot, too-heavy blanket and left her struggling for breath.
Through the window, she could see them coming towards her.
Her skin prickled painfully as they reached her door, her fingers tingling in that hot yet cold way that preceded a panic attack.
Oh God, oh God.
When the knock came, she closed her eyes. "Come in." Her throat was so dry the words had to scratch their way out. She would have only been slightly surprised to find blood in her mouth.
"Captain." Dr. Morales stepped inside and made to shut the door behind him; Provenza elbowed his way in before that happened, and the doctor sighed. "I need you to come with me."
She swallowed painfully. "Is it him?"
"He doesn't know," Provenza said, "because instead of doing his damn job, he came up here to—"
"It's all right, Lieutenant." When Sharon held up her hand, it was steady. She was calm now, save for the odd ringing in her ears. "Dr. Morales?"
She had spent the last month preparing herself for this moment. She knew the odds, and she knew that with each day that went by with no word, this was the most likely outcome. She was almost expecting this.
"As I told Lieutenant Provenza," Morales continued, and she hated to hear him sound like this, so somber and serious, so unlike himself again. "The physical description is a close match, and I have no usable fingerprints. I'm still waiting on dental records, if you would prefer not to—"
"No," she said. It would be best to get this over with today. "No, that's all right, Doctor. I—I can make the identification."
She did not cry.
She shrugged into her jacket automatically. When she did up the buttons, her hands didn't tremble, but she couldn't feel her fingers.
She didn't remember how she got from her office to the morgue, only that she blinked and she was there with Dr. Morales standing at her side, warning her that the body was in bad shape, that someone had tried to burn him.
"Sharon." Provenza's hand was on her elbow then. "I could take a look at the kid."
She stared at the man who would swear to high heaven that he wasn't her friend, the one trying to spare her now, and she shook her head. Her tongue was leaden in her mouth and she could not speak to tell him so, but this was something that no one else could do for her. She braced herself and walked into the room as bravely as she could, because if all she could do now was be there for him one more time, then that was what she would do.
White spots encroached upon her vision in the instant before Morales lifted the sheet, and she gripped the edge of the table hard, her heart in her throat. She no longer felt calm.
She saw blond-streaked brown hair, longer now than it had been when she'd last seen him and she remembered how Rusty had argued about the haircut because it was a stupid rule and why should he care what the school thought when he wasn't even Catholic, and—
And she stared in terrible, disbelieving relief, because the dead child wasn't hers.
She closed her eyes and looked again, just to be sure, because she wanted it so badly. But the boy wasn't Rusty, and Provenza was already shouting at Morales.
"You couldn't have waited—"
Sharon didn't wait hear the rest. She said only, "It's not him," and left the room. She meant to return to her office, but she saw the bench near the elevator and she sat there, because it was as good a place as any and she wasn't sure that her legs would carry her any farther. Elbows on her knees, she dropped her head down into her waiting hands, forcing herself to take deep, measured breaths in through her nose, and exhaling through her mouth.
Relief made her shaky.
She straightened with another breath.
She knew, of course, that he could still be dead.
That he was even probably dead, and that it meant nothing that she hadn't found him yet. She'd seen enough bodies come to light after years of being hidden away. Was he buried in a landfill somewhere? Wrapped in plastic and sunk into the sea? Was he, too, lying in a shallow grave in Griffith Park?
All she could do was hope not, and wait to see what tomorrow brought.
She wasn't sure how much longer she could carry the weight of this uncertainty before it drove her to her knees.
Sharon bowed her head again, praying silently for strength.