A/N: My apologies for the long wait. I've had an existential crisis with this fic, not just once, but three times. Also, thank you for the lovely reviews you've left; they always make my day.
Chapter Two/Week Two:
Andrea Hobbs lay in bed, unable to sleep; she couldn't stop thinking about the next day. Rusty was going to meet his mother for the first time in almost three years, and Andrea knew Sharon was worried, but tried to keep it from showing, for the kid's sake. She thought about the way Sharon and Rusty had bonded over time, forming their own little family unit that Andrea was, now, somewhat a part of as well. Those two always had each other's back these days, and one was always the first one to defend the other, should anyone so much as say a cross word.
At some point, Andrea must have drifted to sleep, because she was startled awake by the phone ringing on the nightstand. She fumbled in the dark, trying to grab the device, but she only managed to knock it down to the floor.
"Dammit," Andrea cursed as she reached down to pick it up and accepted the call without even checking who it was. "Hobbs."
There was nothing but silence on the other end. Andrea checked the caller ID on the screen and sat up properly in bed when she saw who it was. "Sharon? Is everything all right?"
"Hi…" Andrea heard the other woman take a deep, shaky breath. It sounded like she had been crying. "Um, I know it's really late-."
"I'm coming over," Andrea said the moment she heard the tremble in Sharon's voice. She stumbled out of bed and looked hastily for a pair of jeans to throw on. "Are you okay? Is Rusty okay?"
"We're okay, but… I don't… Andrea, I can't…" Sharon tried to explain, but couldn't find the words to describe the oppressive weight on her chest, the distress she was feeling over possibly losing Rusty. "Andrea…"
"I'm on my way, Sharon. I'll be there in fifteen," Andrea promised. She was fully awake now, adrenaline rushing through her veins. It didn't matter that Sharon had said she was all right; in all the time that Andrea had known Sharon, she'd never heard such a defeated, helpless tone in her voice.
Andrea broke a few speed limits and would probably have gotten a ticket for reckless driving, had the cops seen her, but it wasn't something she concerned herself with.
The moment she reached Sharon's door and knocked, Sharon opened it. Seeing how frazzled Sharon looked, Andrea stepped closer and, dropping her overnight bag on the floor, let Sharon collapse in her arms.
"Oh, Sharon," Andrea murmured as she gently rubbed Sharon's back and smoothed her hair.
"I'm sorry I dragged you out of bed," Sharon, after a few moments, mumbled into Andrea's shoulder. "I just… I really needed to talk to you, but you didn't have to drive all this way."
Andrea, whose heart rate was only now starting to slow down, held Sharon tighter. "There's nowhere I'd rather be. I just wish I didn't live so far away."
Sharon hummed in agreement, but remained otherwise silent. Finally, knowing they were both dead on their feet, Sharon withdrew from their embrace. "Come on. Let me take your coat, so we can get to bed."
Andrea shrugged off her coat and handed it to Sharon, surprising the older woman when she was wearing nothing but pajamas underneath.
"I was in a hurry," Andrea offered with a shrug. She, then, grabbed her bag from the floor. "I brought something to wear tomorrow. Hey, are my black jeans here? I couldn't find them."
"Yes, I put them together with your tops and the sweater," Sharon answered, leading them to the bedroom. She was still restless, though considerably less so than just a few minute ago, when Andrea had walked in.
Andrea watched as Sharon stopped in front of the window and drew back the curtains, staring outside. Andrea wanted to give Sharon time to gather her thoughts and open up when she was ready, but the older woman seemed lost in her thoughts. Finally, after a few minutes, Andrea stepped closer to stand behind Sharon and wrapped her arms around her.
"Is there anything I can do?" Andrea asked softly and kissed Sharon on the shoulder.
"That I can absolutely do," Andrea promised. She encouraged Sharon to turn around and kissed her, softly. She then took Sharon's hand and led her to the bed.
They settled under the covers, Andrea resting against the pillows with Sharon curled up against her, with her head on Andrea's shoulder. Andrea caressed Sharon's arm, still waiting to see if Sharon wanted to talk. She hated to see the woman struggling like this, but there was little she could do, other than just offer her unwavering support.
"Rusty went to his room well over an hour ago, but he was so nervous all evening," Sharon murmurs, at last breaking the silence. "Excited, too."
It had been with mixed emotions that Sharon had watched him go back and forth between being excited and apprehensive at the prospect of seeing his mother.
"Where the meeting will take place?" Andrea asked. "Here?"
"Oh, no," Sharon shook her head. "We agreed it should be somewhere neutral, and…well, to be honest I think she'll have enough on her plate with just me being present. I realize that the situation will be tense enough, but Rusty's mom will know that I'm the one he lives with, and that I'm a police officer. Witnessing her son being comfortable in someone else's care, in someone else's home… well, I don't know the woman, but from what little Rusty's told me about her, I don't think any of that will make her overly fond of me. I thought that, maybe, if we met somewhere else, it wouldn't be so in her face, the fact that he has a home here."
Andrea nodded, understanding the reasoning behind Sharon's words. "So, where are you taking them?"
"Actually, I told Rusty he could choose," Sharon said with slight trepidation.
"So, which greasy pizza joint will you sneak your own salad into?" Andrea teased.
"Ha-ha," Sharon deadpanned. "You're so funny, counselor. Rusty suggested Denny's, which... He said 'it shouldn't be anything too fancy, or she won't like it'."
"Well…I guess it could be worse," Andrea ventured with a slight smile, knowing quite well what Sharon thought of the chain restaurant.
Sharon hummed in agreement.
The next day, Sharon watched as Rusty nervously paced her office. It was after four in the afternoon, and less than an hour before they'd leave to meet his mother. She'd tried to get Rusty to sit down several times as he was making her dizzy with all the walking back and forth, but he was too restless to stay still.
"Just… could you maybe try to be really nice to her?" Rusty asked Sharon. "Hey, you know, you could say something about how it's a good thing she came back-."
"Rusty," Sharon breathed. They'd already had this discussion twice; once at home a few days ago, with Andrea present, and once that morning as they were rushing out the door. Apparently, Sharon hadn't convinced him yet. "You don't have to worry about that. I promise I'll work very hard to be extra polite and nice. I can be nice, you know," she said with a teasing smile.
"I know," he smiled back but it was strained, forced. It wasn't that he didn't believe Sharon, it was just that, sometimes, his mom read things between the lines that weren't there. It often led to her, unnecessarily, causing a scene.
"I know you're concerned about how the dinner will go, but I'm sure it'll be fine," Sharon said. "You're meeting your mom again, and you should focus on that. And, I promise I'll do everything I can to make this as easy for you as possible; all I want is for you to be happy."
"I know… I just..." Rusty paused, searching for a way to explain. "I just don't want her to feel like anyone is looking at her and judging her. Especially now if she's trying."
The word "if" didn't escape Sharon's notice. She tilted her head a little, trying not to let it show how much the small word broke her heart. No child, however young or grown, should ever be that uncertain of their parents.
It was then that Rusty looked alarmed, his brain finally catching up with what he'd said. "I mean, I know you won't. But I don't want her to feel, like…" Rusty sighed and flopped down into one of the chairs in front of Sharon's desk. "I mean that she didn't mean to be a bad mom, you know. She tried in her way, and she only left to protect me from Gary, so I don't want anyone to, like, judge her just 'cause Gary's an asshole. Even if he has changed like she says."
Sharon smiled, albeit sadly. She felt a tug in her heart, seeing how Rusty still defended his mother's actions. With all that life had taught her, Sharon was almost certain – even if she was prepared to be wrong – that Sharon Beck was not in town to stay, and Rusty would only burn his wings, once again. A part of her hoped she was wrong, for Rusty's sake, but experience had prepared her differently.
No matter what the end result would be, Sharon couldn't, however, let him keep making excuses for his mother.
"Rusty, I have promised to be nice to your mom, but I cannot pretend that I approve of what she's done. It's true that her judgment was impaired due to her addictions, but nothing, nothing, excuses a parent abandoning their child. There is no justification for that," Sharon said gently and watched him turn his head away, avoiding her gaze. "I know you love her, of course you do, but I want you to understand that no matter what problems she had, she was the adult in your life responsible for your well-being, and you shouldn't have to defend her actions, especially those that hurt you."
Rusty nodded silently; he was clearly taking in Sharon's words, but it would take him some time to mull them over, accept them. Making excuses for his mom was something he was used to doing; he'd done it ever since he was just a kid, and it was a habit he wasn't sure he'd know how to break, even if he wanted to.
Rusty glanced back at Sharon, finding her eyes still on him. He still didn't know what to say, so he just nodded again, letting her know he'd think about what she'd said.
"You shouldn't get used to living such a pampered life," Sharon Beck said to her son as soon as there was the first mention of the school he was attending. She flipped her badly dyed blonde hair behind her and pointed a finger at Rusty. "I don't like you getting ideas into your head about being better than you are."
Sharon Raydor, who sat on the other side of the booth, fought hard against growling at her namesake. They'd been at the restaurant for only a little over half an hour, and she was already counting the minutes until she could take Rusty and go home.
Rusty's mother was one of the most selfish people Sharon had ever met, even rivaling her estranged husband. So far, the woman had only talked about herself, excitedly telling them of all the places she and Gary had been to, of all the things they'd seen after leaving Los Angeles. After abandoning her son.
The meeting of son and mother had started with a tentative hug and Sharon Beck exclaiming how tall her son had gotten.
"Practically all grown up," she'd pointed out, as if forgetting that it had been almost three years since she'd last seen Rusty. She'd then taken a long look at the clothes he was wearing and had raised her eyebrows. "And dressed in such fancy clothes, too."
Rusty had looked at the pants and the button-up shirt Sharon and he had got him a few months ago, when he'd outgrown some of his clothes. He'd stumbled through an explanation, feeling guilty because he was wearing clothes his mother could never afford to give him, but, at the same time, worrying he was making Sharon feel like he didn't appreciate everything she'd done for him.
Things had been awkward since, but the older Sharon had mostly remained quiet, letting mother and son catch up.
Now, though, the captain could no longer keep silent, especially when Rusty was looking quite lost and uncertain as to how to defend his new life.
"Rusty is actually doing really well in school, Ms. Beck. His teachers are very impressed with his grades and how hardworking he is," Sharon interjected, though, she was more concerned with reminding Rusty that, not only was he was good just the way that he was now, but that there was also no need to feel bad about where he came from.
Rusty looked at his foster-mom, thankful for her words, but the smile he gave her didn't reach his eyes. The truth was, after all, that he would have none of the things he now had if it weren't for Sharon – not the clothes, nor the school, nor even a home where he could feel safe. And he could never pay her back for everything she'd done for him, no matter how many breakfasts he cooked, or how kind he continued to be.
He was torn between wanting to defend both women, understanding where both of them came from. There was a world of difference between them and, yet, they were both here, sitting at the table, for him.
The thought made Rusty uncomfortable, anxious. Both women were important to him. Next to him was his mom, and, yeah, she'd abandoned him, and then she'd kind of done it again when she hadn't shown up at the bus station – but she was still his mom. There were times when he thought about all the boyfriends she'd brought home and what they'd done to him. He thought about the way his mom had been after she had started drinking and using drugs, and how much she had changed. He thought about the panic he had felt when the zoo had closed and there had been no sign of his mom, and he thought about the first night on the streets.
But he also thought about the way she was when he was just a kid, before everything had changed. He thought about her smile, and how she'd taken him to the playground close to where they had lived back then. He thought about the time they had made cookies, but ended up eating more cookie dough than actual cookies. He'd gotten sick to his stomach from that, but it was still one of his favorite memories.
And yeah, he knew that, even if his mom was better now, and even if he moved in with her, his life wasn't going to be about cookie baking, but the fact remained that he was still his mom. He'd tried not to love her, and he'd tried not to care, not to get his hopes up, but it wasn't something he could just stop doing – no matter how much he'd sometimes wanted to.
And, then, there was Sharon who had given him so much. Again, he quickly glanced at the woman sitting straight across from him and felt a wave of gratitude. She'd saved him so many times and in so many different ways. She'd been there for him like no one ever had before, and, most importantly, she was someone he knew he could trust completely. Sharon and Andrea both had proven to him that they always did what was best for him, and he'd be eternally grateful to them for that.
Rusty hated that, no matter what would happen, he would end up hurting one of the women sitting at the table, and it wasn't something he could escape. Sharon had said that, whichever way he wanted to choose, she'd help him, but he felt like his loyalties were divided.
It was all starting to feel very suffocating for him. He risked another glance at his foster-mom and saw the concern in her eyes. She could read him so well it was frustrating sometimes. Right now, he didn't want her to ask if he was okay, he didn't want his mom to realize he felt like he needed to leave – even if that was exactly what he needed to do right now.
"Is everything all right?" Sharon asked Rusty. They were nearing the condo, and he hadn't said a word since leaving the restaurant. It wasn't long after Sharon had noticed Rusty starting to fidget that he had blurted out an excuse about an early morning and needing to get going. It had seemed rather sudden, but, after the comment Rusty's mother had made about him living a pampered life, Sharon could hardly blame him.
"Yeah, I just… We have an early morning, and I didn't want to stay out too late," he said, repeating his earlier excuse.
Despite knowing he was holding back, Sharon didn't prod for more answers. Trying to force him into expressing his feelings would only agitate him further, and she hoped that, once he'd had time to process seeing his mother again, he'd talk to either her or Andrea.
When they returned home, some five minutes later, the first thing Sharon noticed was an extra pair of shoes by the door. She immediately felt some of the tension leave her.
"In here," the DDA's disembodied voice carried from the direction of the kitchen.
Sharon watched as Rusty walked directly to the couch, mumbling a greeting to Andrea, and dropped down on it. He turned on the TV and started to flip through channels, something Sharon usually asked him to avoid, but she figured if this was the extent of his acting out, she should count her blessings.
Sharon made her way to the kitchen table where the blonde was poring over documents and kissed the top of her head.
"Hi," Andrea greeted her softly. Her eyes were reflecting her curiosity, but something about the way Sharon carried herself made her hold off on her questions.
"Hey," Sharon answered. "What are you working on?"
"Nothing that can't wait," Andrea said, and started stacking her papers into one neat pile. She'd expected Sharon and Rusty to arrive much later and had barely had a chance to glance at the papers. Now, though, she knew she wouldn't be able to concentrate before finding out why the two had come home so prematurely.
"Oh, I don't want to interrupt your work."
"You're not," Andrea assured Sharon. "I was only going to kill time until you came back."
It wasn't late, but it seemed that the rest of the evening would be a quiet one; Rusty clearly preferred to be left alone, and Sharon and Andrea wanted to respect his wishes. It would be a while before they'd all turn in, and with Rusty in the living room, the women retreated to the balcony.
Andrea handed Sharon a glass of wine and, then, settled behind the smaller woman on their preferred deck chair.
"What happened?" Andrea finally asked, now that they had semi-privacy. "I wasn't expecting you back until much later."
Sharon sighed and recounted the mother-son reunion, explaining everything from the way Rusty had stood frozen upon first laying his eyes on his mother, to how he had suddenly decided they needed to go home. "I think his mother's comments got to him more than he'd like to let on. Before that, everything seemed all right, because even though she did mostly talk about herself, Rusty seemed interested in hearing everything."
"So..." Andrea prodded.
"So, I'm worried, because while I found it selfish on her part that she didn't once ask about how Rusty's been, or what happened to him since she left him, Rusty didn't mind. But the moment she disapproved of how he's living now, he started to shut down," Sharon explained. "I couldn't get a word out of him during the entire drive home."
"He'll tell you when he's ready," Andrea said. She gently rubbed Sharon's shoulder, trying to offer some comfort.
Sharon nodded. "I just feel like all the hard work, all the progress he's made, is being taken away. He's retreating to his shell again."
"He's overwhelmed, honey," Andrea reminded her. "And he's confused. He just needs time to process his thoughts. His mother is back after all this time, after none of us expected to hear from her again. He's probably torn between his feelings for her and for you."
Sharon nodded again, knowing Andrea was right. It was a familiar feeling for her as well, being torn between wanting two completely different things.
"What did you think of her?" Andrea asked, even though she had a pretty good idea what the answer would be.
Sharon burrowed her face into to Andrea's neck. She thought about the woman, almost half her age, and the life she'd led. "I tried to have an open mind, I did. I tried to take into account how hard it must have been for her to become a single mother in her teens and to not have your parents help you. I tried to see things from her point of view, but…" Sharon sighed, resigned. "I just don't like her. But I have to try to, at least, get along with her. For Rusty's sake, I have to try."
Andrea held Sharon closer. "I am so proud of you, Sharon."
"I'm not sure you should be," Sharon countered quietly. "I'd love to boot the woman back to Las Vegas, or Reno, or just anywhere but here, but I can't." She sighed. "I love that kid."
"I know you do, honey," Andrea said. "This isn't easy for anyone, but I know you'll try. Just like you've tried for all your kids' sake. You can do this."
Sharon only hummed in response, grateful, as always, for the unwavering support Andrea so willingly gave.
"That reminds me," Sharon said after a few moments, "Jackson called earlier this week."
The mere mention of the man never failed to make Andrea want to wring his neck, but she tampered her reaction for Sharon's sake. "Oh? And what did he want?"
"I actually didn't answer, but he left a message. I need to call him at some point; he was talking around in circles, but it sounded like he's nearly finished paying off his debts."
"Well, that's good, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is," Sharon replied. She then tilted her head upwards, so she could meet Andrea's eyes. "I hate that I'm still tied to him legally. I hate it, because I'd rather not have anything to do with him, but, mostly, I hate it, because it's not fair to you."
"Sharon, honey… I'm not going to lie and say I don't care of one way or the other, but things between you two are complicated, and I do understand the situation." Andrea placed her hand over Sharon's heart and leaned down to capture her lips in a soft kiss. "I know you love me, and, right now, this, what we have, here, is enough."
"I do love you," Sharon vowed, initiating another kiss. "I love you so much, and I wish things were different. I wish…"
"I know," Andrea whispered and held Sharon to her. Sharon being still legally married to Jackson was not something they talked about often. There was nothing to be done about it for the moment, so, mostly, they ignored it. It was only when the man reappeared that the subject was brought up.
Andrea also knew that Sharon had never told Jackson about their relationship. Not because Sharon was ashamed, or felt she was doing anything wrong, but because she knew he'd see it as a challenge. Andrea had never met the man, but based on everything she knew about him, she had no doubt that Sharon was right when she said he'd be in LA the second he found out, trying to woo her back. He'd be a pain in the ass, and that was something they could all do without. So, they were biding their time, waiting until the last of the financial issues were cleared, so that Sharon could, finally, file for divorce.
As if reading Andrea's mind, Sharon asked: "Does it bother you that I haven't told him about us yet?"
Andrea briefly entertained the idea of seeing the look on the man's face when he realized that Sharon, whom he still considered to be "his", had moved on. As tempting as the thought was, though, it wasn't worth all the trouble he could cause them. "No, it doesn't bother me," Andrea answered. "Everyone who matters knows."
Later that night, Sharon was curled up against Andrea in bed, the younger woman, once again, holding her close. They were all talked out for the night, and both women were content to just be together. Sharon breathed in Andrea's scent, a mix of her shampoo and body lotion, and something that was all Andrea, and savored the feeling of safety the embrace created. Her last thoughts were about how much she was going to miss Rusty, and how incredibly fortunate she was to have Andrea with her through this all.