Notes: My reaction to last night's episode can be summed up as "aaaaargh RUSTY." My reaction to the promo for next week's episode involved an awful lot of wordless noises, and I'm not sure how I'm going to last another six days. This show, you guys.I feel very lucky to have spent the second half of 2013 with all of you lovely people, and I look forward to more reading/writing/incoherent shouting in 2014! I hope you all have a happy and safe new year. :)



Rusty had finally stopped sweating by the time Amy and Lieutenant Cooper had finished lecturing him, but the aftereffects of those few moments of blind terror lingered. His heartbeat had yet to return to a normal, steady pace, and when he left the corner cubicle and made for Sharon's office, his legs were wobbly. He wasn't sure sure that he was ready to face Sharon yet, either, but Amy had been very clear on that point. "The captain wanted to see you as soon as we were done," she'd said, and when he'd been slow to comply, she'd placed both hands on his shoulders and pivoted him around.

He could feel her eyes following him across the floor. Amy was kind of... intense.

His fingers were still that strange sort of panicky hot-and-cold when he reached for the doorknob. He didn't bother to knock—Sharon was alone inside, hunched over paperwork. She looked up when he entered.

Rusty froze, hand tightening nervously around the door handle. He'd braced himself for anger—he knew that he'd screwed up, he really, really knew, and he knew that Sharon had every right to be angry when he'd promised up and down and a thousand times that he would be careful, that he would be safe, that he would do exactly as he'd been told.

She didn't look angry.

The corners of her mouth lifted just a little when her eyes landed on him, and the hard set of her jaw relaxed. Rusty watched something flicker across her face, some emotion that he had no words for but made his chest constrict in a way that no too-tight vest ever could. His palms grew sweaty again.

"Come in," Sharon said at last, motioning him in with a wave of her hand. "Sit down. You don't look so good."

Rusty didn't need telling twice. He dropped into the seat in front of her desk, arms crossed across his chest. He tried to take deep breaths.

Sharon folded her hands atop the papers she'd been reading, regarding him in silence. He met her eyes for a few seconds and then looked down and away when he couldn't stand it anymore, because her expression was kind of... uncomfortably piercing.

Rusty studied his shoes. "Are you going to yell at me too?"

Sharon made a quick, sudden exhale. It wasn't quite a sigh, but it definitely wasn't a sound of amusement, either. Otherwise, she was silent as she considered that, worrying one thumb over the other.

"Will you ever do that again?"

"No," Rusty said emphatically. "Never. I swear."

He'd been trying not to think about it since it had happened. Just remembering was enough to start that rapidly spiraling out of control fear all over again, that helplessness that had paralyzed every ounce of rationality in his mind and sent him running. Now that he was calmer, he remembered that deviating from the plan was considered a distress signal. If it had been real, he would never have made it out of the park without the SIS team swarming in.

But... it had certainly felt real, and his mother, and...

He was starting to feel queasy again.

Maybe it was best not to think about it.

Sharon gave him another long, searching look. He wanted, and more than that, he needed her to believe that he was sincere, so this time, Rusty forced himself to stare straight into her eyes no matter how much his instinct was to squirm away.

"I believe you," she said finally.

Rusty let out a long-held breath of relief, and quickly dropped his eyes down to his shoes. He rubbed his palms dry on the cuffs of his sweatshirt, bunching his fists around the material.

"I'm sure Amy was quite thorough," she went on. "And you certainly look like you've learned your lesson."

"I have," he said hurriedly. "You have no idea."

"Good." Her voice was sharp enough to make him wince, but still he detected no anger. "Then what I have to say can wait until later."

That... wasn't a good sign.

Rusty tugged anxiously at the hem of his shirt. "Can't you just say it now?" he asked. "I was sort of hoping to get the yelling-at-Rusty part out of the way up front."

Sharon smiled. It was tiny, and she tried so hard to hide it, dipping her head and clearing her throat, but he knew it was there. Rusty felt his pulse drop closer to normal with the unexpected sense that it just might be okay after all.

"I'm not going to yell at you," Sharon said, shaking her head. "And I'll wait until you're ready to listen."

"I'm listening," he protested.

All Sharon did was look at him. She didn't say a word, just tilted her head with the slightest quirk of an eyebrow, and that was all it took to make him remember all the times where he hadn't actually done it.

Rusty swallowed.

"Okay," he admitted. "I haven't been listening."

"Do you think so?"

And, oddly enough, her sarcasm was reassuring. That was always how she was when she was annoyed or exasperated or voicing her weird support for dumb traffic laws that nobody followed, like, ever. It was why he'd let himself stop listening, because he felt secure enough in her love for him to risk her anger.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "For not listening to you before. I didn't realize that—I thought you were just... worrying because you're my—my... because you always worry about me."

And that was something else that he was determinedly not thinking about, because... well, lots of reasons. It wasn't just that Sharon worried about him. It was how he responded to the way that she worried about him, and Rusty wasn't sure what to do with that. In some ways, trying to catch the guy trying to kill him was a lot less complicated and a lot less frightening than sorting out his feelings.

"Thank you," Sharon said, her voice low and measured, and that was how she always was when he said something that caught her off guard. "I appreciate that. I do. Now," she continued, in a more normal tone, "go get a soda from the break room while I finish up in here. Then we're going to go practice your driving some more."

"But—" The word was free of his mouth before he knew that he was speaking, really, but once he started there was nothing that he could do but finish. "That was, like, the one thing I did right."

Amy had made sure of it.

Sharon folded her arms. "When we catch this guy, the security restrictions on you will be lifted. I'm assuming that you'll want to take the car to see your friends, am I right? Well," she continued, when he nodded warily, "that's not going to happen until I see you drive better than you did the other day. Understood?"

But she smiled a small smile as she said it, and he smiled back even as he resisted the urge to roll his eyes (because he was mostly sure that this was a Sharon thing, and not an actual thing), and then he left her to finish her work in peace.

He felt steadier on his feet now.