A/N: And here we have the conclusion. Though it does look I'll be continuing the series. Major thanks to everyone who's kept up with the story and taken the time to review it. Special thanks to lysachan and defyingnormalcy for all your help. Couldn't have done it without you.
Sharon's stomach rumbled; she was hungry, but she and Rusty were still waiting for his mother to arrive at the restaurant where they were to meet. With a long and difficult day behind her (she'd been called to a double murder at 4am), Sharon was tired and all she really wanted was to go home, have a soak in the tub with a glass of wine, and call Andrea to hear how her day had gone. All of that, however, would have to wait.
Sharon glanced at Rusty, trying to gauge how he was holding up. Saturday night, after they'd returned home from the beach, he'd told them, Sharon and Andrea, that he was going to let his mother know of his decision the next time they met. Andrea had, at once, offered to cancel her plans with her parents if Rusty wanted her there as well, but, after they'd discussed it, it was decided that it would be better if the meeting took place just between Sharon, Rusty and his mother. This meant that Sharon was about to get another text message from Andrea any moment now, asking how things were going.
Since Saturday, the three of them had talked every day about how to break the news to Rusty's mother. Both, Sharon and Andrea, had tirelessly listened to Rusty's worries and helped him to find the right words to try and explain to his mother why he wanted to stay where he was. Now the time to tell her was here, and Rusty was looking a little too green for Sharon to believe he was "fine" which he claimed to be.
Sharon's phone alerted her to a new text message, and, sure enough, it was Andrea, once again asking if Rusty's mother had arrived yet. Sharon checked the time, noticing the woman was now nearly twenty minutes late.
Rusty noticed how Sharon glanced at her wrist watch. "We should just go," he suggested.
"We can still wait," Sharon countered, and quickly sent Andrea a short message back.
"She's a half an hour late," Rusty said and crossed his arms. He hated waiting, but he also had a gut feeling that his mom wasn't going to show up at all, and he didn't know how he felt about that, honestly.
Sharon smiled a little at his petulance. "It's been twenty minutes," she corrected him. "Why don't you call her, see when she'll be here."
Rusty rolled his eyes and then looked at Sharon pointedly. "It's no use, Sharon. She's not coming."
Sharon's smile faltered, knowing Rusty was most likely right. "Try anyway," she encouraged him.
Rusty pulled out his phone and called his mother's number, but, like they'd predicted, there was no answer, and, after waiting for another few minutes, they left the restaurant.
Walking to their car, Sharon decided to call Andrea, to let her know they were heading home.
"I can't believe that woman," Andrea fumed as soon as she heard about Rusty's mother not showing up. She took a calming breath and asked: "How's Rusty?"
"I think both of us are feeling equally disappointed and relieved," Sharon answered, looking at Rusty. He shrugged his confirmation. "How's your evening with your parents?" Sharon asked in turn, deciding to change topics.
"It was good; I already dropped them off," Andrea replied. "We got dad the new hearing aid, but he gets tired easily these days, so they just wanted to go home."
Sharon's response was delayed when Rusty waved his hands in front of her face, demanding her attention. "Hang on, Andrea," she said, then turned her attention to the teen. "What is it?"
"Can we go and have burgers? And could Andrea come too?"
Sharon smiled, happy that he was always so willing to include Andrea in their plans. "Did you hear that, Andrea?" Sharon asked.
"I did, and I definitely can," the DDA confirmed. "I'm starving, actually."
After quickly agreeing to meet at Rusty's favorite burger restaurant, the women hung up.
Suddenly, Sharon was very much looking forward to the rest of the evening.
They'd been home for almost two hours when Rusty's mother finally called. Andrea had come back to the condo with them, and she and Rusty were in the middle of preparing lunch for all three of them for the next day when his phone rang. Sharon, who was reading over emails from her team in order to keep up with their latest case, looked up as Rusty just stared at his phone.
Finally, with his eyes locked to Sharon's, Rusty accepted the call.
Rusty listened as his mother explained why she hadn't made it. She was full of excuses, none of which were apparently her fault, and Rusty really didn't want to hear any of it. He first glanced at Sharon, who was now standing next to him, rubbing his back soothingly, and then Andrea, who was also hovering close; their unwavering support was greatly appreciated.
Finally, his mother asked to speak to Sharon, which surprised him.
"I'll see you real soon," she said as a goodbye.
The words immobilized him, robbed him of breath. He didn't even notice Sharon and Andrea looking at him, alarmed. He was only somewhat aware of Sharon briefly pressing her lips against his forehead before excusing herself to go talk out on the balcony, while Andrea promised to make sure Rusty was okay. All he could hear, again and again, were his mother's words.
I'll see you real soon.
It was exactly what she'd said to him the day she'd abandoned him at the zoo.
Sharon's attention was divided; part of her was watching Andrea talking to Rusty, trying to coax him out of the sudden daze, and the rest of her listened to the boy's mother talking. As she saw Rusty nodding at something Andrea was saying, she allowed herself to focus more on what her namesake was saying.
It was only then that she realized the woman was drunk, her words slightly slurred.
"…and I know the timing is really screwed up, but Gary's friend in Sacramento said he could get him a job. And it's a really good auto shop, so it could pay really well. And, you know, I like Rusty; he's a good kid. Mostly, he just needs to be reminded of his place. And he just needs so much attention, what with the trial and all, and I can't be sure if we're even gonna be in LA when the trial starts," Rusty's mother said, giving Sharon reason after reason to dislike the woman more.
Sharon let the woman talk, only half listening, and watched through the windows as Andrea and Rusty's conversation seemed to come to an end. The teen nodded, and Andrea gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze before Rusty headed to his room. The younger woman then made her way over to Sharon, just standing close and offering her silent support.
"So, really, I was just wondering," Rusty's mother was saying, "if you wouldn't mind looking after the kid for a while longer? I know it's a lot to ask, but the apartment Gary found for us is a one-bedroom place, and it really wouldn't be fair to make Rusty sleep on the couch. We could send you some money as soon as Gary gets his first paycheck, you know, 'cause I'm not shrinking my responsibilities, or anything. And, you know, at least he's gonna be eighteen in just a few months, so you don't have to put up with him for much longer."
Sharon pressed her lips together, trying to hold back her anger, but it was getting harder to do the more she listened to the woman talk. It was right then that Andrea moved a little closer and placed her hand on Sharon's lower back, rubbing it gently. The effect was immediate, and Sharon took a calming, deep breath. "It's no trouble, I assure you. I'm perfectly happy to have Rusty stay with us for as long as he needs to," she assured the other Sharon sweetly.
The phone call was over soon after, with Rusty's mother promising to call Rusty with their new address as soon as they'd settled in. Sharon barely managed a polite goodbye before ending the phone call, knowing already just how much that promise was worth.
As soon as the call was over, Andrea took Sharon's phone (just in case the good captain was tempted to sling it over the railing) and put it in the pocket of her jeans. She, then, wrapped her arms around the smaller woman, allowing them a minute to take in what had happened.
"You okay?" Andrea eventually asked.
Sharon leaned back a little, sighing. "Yes, but I can't help but wonder what's next. Who's going to want to try and take Rusty away next? Who's the next one to hurt him?"
Andrea smiled softly and kissed Sharon before answering: "Well, so far, you've managed to fend off his biological father, the judicial system, then the system again in the form of one Emma Rios, a nut job that sent you both threatening letters, and now his biological mother. I'd say there's a good chance he's not going anywhere anytime soon."
Sharon grunted, but a small smile tugged at the corners of her lips.
They stayed out on the balcony for a while longer, Andrea standing behind Sharon, with her arms wrapped around the smaller woman and her chin resting on her shoulder. With all the emotional upheaval of the last few weeks, it felt good to just have a moment of quiet together, knowing that, though it would take Rusty some time to heal from this, with their help things, would be getting back to normal soon.
Sharon and Andrea still hadn't moved when, a few minutes later, Rusty appeared next to them. Andrea let go of Sharon, but remained close. She also noticed how he stood there, slightly restlessly, and, then, shoved his hands into his pockets. It was such a Sharon-like gesture that, despite the somber situation, Andrea couldn't help but smile.
"I'm sorry, Rusty," Sharon sighed, not really knowing how much he'd want to talk, if at all.
"Don't be," he responded, shrugging. "We all knew this was coming. It was just a matter of time."
"I can't and I won't lie to you Rusty," Sharon said. "I did have my suspicions, as did Andrea, that this might happen in the end, that she might do this. We wanted to protect you from that, but we couldn't deny you the chance to, we couldn't just…" Sharon paused to take a shaky breath. "Rusty, I can't do anything to take the pain away. And I can't undo her actions, no matter how badly I want to. But I love you, and I promise you that you will always have a home with me."
"I know," Rusty said. "I know that. It's just... it hurts, Sharon. It hurts, and I can't make it stop hurting."
Sharon stepped closer to Rusty, and the teen met her halfway, welcoming her arms around him.
"I know, honey," Sharon murmured. And she did know, because watching how his mother had treated Rusty had been painful for her as well. She smoothed his hair and met Andrea's gaze over his shoulder, the blonde woman stepping closer and resting a hand on his shoulder.
Rusty loosened his hold and, then, stepped back. His hands went back to his pockets as he looked down at his feet. "I keep thinking about something, though."
Sharon merely nodded, waiting for him to continue.
"I already knew I wanted to stay with you," Rusty said. "But now I know this is where I belong."