The tap on her office door was far more gentle than his usual heavier knock, but Sharon Raydor still recognised it as belonging to Andy Flynn. She looked up from the file she was reading as he entered, the bright smile she usually wore at his arrival freezing in place as soon as she took in his demeanour. His shoulders were slumped and he wore a stricken expression on his handsome face that immediately struck fear into her heart.
“Andy, what is it?” she asked softly, beckoning him further into the room.
He took a deep breath as he closed the door behind him, running a hand through his hair before turning slowly and moving towards the chair that was placed in front of her desk. Sharon was already on her feet, closing the blinds to offer him some privacy before coming to stand in front of him, leaning against the large desk as she waited for him to speak.
Andy seemed to wrestle with his words for a few moments before finally looking up at her, his dark eyes brimming with unshed tears.
“I’m going to need to take a few days off, Captain…”
He didn’t continue, just bowed his head again, his hands twisting together in his lap, betraying his agitation. She was really concerned, now. Kneeling down in front of him, Sharon took his hands in both of hers, holding them still as she looked up at him. Her thumbs stroked the backs of his hands in a calming rhythm.
“What’s going on?”
“I have to go back east.” His voice was barely above a whisper now. “An old friend called. He has end-stage liver disease…he doesn’t have long left and he…” Andy choked back a sob. “He wants to see me…before…”
He closed his eyes then, a tear escaping and rolling slowly down his face. Sharon lifted a hand and caught it with her thumb, touching her palm to his cheek in comfort as she did so.
“My God,” she murmured. “I’m so sorry, honey.”
“That’s not the worst part.” Andy barked out a bitter laugh and she raised an eyebrow at him, confused. He met her questioning gaze, his eyes filled with self-loathing. “The worst part is…” He took a shuddering breath. “The worst part is, I don’t want to go.”
She smiled sympathetically at him as she finally thought she understood his anguish.
“It’s okay,” she reassured him quietly. “It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s natural to feel anxious about it…”
He shook his head at her.
“No, that’s not it, Sharon. I want to see him. We were good friends once. It’s the right thing to do - to say goodbye.”
“Okay…” She laid a hand against his face again lightly and he leaned in to her touch, seeming to draw strength from her. “Then why don’t you want to go?”
He closed his eyes and shook his head, trying to find the words to explain to her how he felt. Eventually, he managed to choke out the real reason for his anxiety.
“I haven’t set foot there since the day I first left, Sharon - and I swore I never would. I don’t want to go, because I don’t know if I can bear being back in that place again.” His gaze was intense as he looked into her beautiful green eyes. “I’m scared, Sharon…”
Now that he had said it out loud, it seemed even more pathetic than it had sounded in his own head. He looked down at his feet, which were shuffling uncomfortably against the floor of her office.
“Why, Andy? What happened?”
As she watched a look of raw pain cross his face, Sharon felt tears pricking her own eyes. Thinking back over the many years she had known this man, she realised that Andy had never spoken about his early life on the east coast. He never mentioned anything that happened before his arrival in California. The hole in his past suddenly seemed huge and she wondered why she had never noticed it before.
“I can’t.” His voice shook and he looked completely broken as his eyes begged her not to press the issue. “I’m sorry, Sharon. I just can’t…”
Rising slowly to her feet, Sharon perched on the edge of her desk once more. She held her hands out for him and he took hold of them, coming to stand in front of her. Immediately, she slipped her arms around his waist, pulling him nearer still. His expression had changed to one of bewilderment at her actions - she always insisted on keeping displays of affection out of the office, for many and obvious reasons. In this instance, however, she decided that he needed her touch more than she needed to adhere to her own policy. She smiled reassuringly up at him as his warmth surrounded her, and he rested his hands on her shoulders, his fingers absently playing with the silky strands of her pretty brunette hair - it was a habit of his that she secretly loved.
Laying her head on his chest, Sharon sighed inwardly as she wondered how to tackle this unexpected and obviously painful situation. She wished he would talk to her about whatever was causing him so much anguish, but she knew from experience that Andy could not be pushed. Trying to force him to open up would only have the opposite effect, she knew. She would have to wait, let him talk to her when he was ready. In the meantime, there had to be something that she could do to help him through this…
Quickly formulating a plan, Sharon decided that the best thing to do for him now was to take control. He was lost and he needed someone to guide him - and that she could certainly do. Her decision was reinforced when she lifted her head to look at him once more and found his cheeks wet with tears.
“It’s alright, Andy.” She leaned in to him, pressing a kiss against the corner of his mouth. “Everything will be alright. I promise.”
“I’m sorry…” he started, but she hushed him with another quick kiss, before hopping down from her perch on the desk.
“I have a couple of errands to run.” Sharon squeezed his shoulder supportively as she moved past him. “Stay here for a bit, get yourself together.”
He threw her a grateful - if rather watery - smile before she turned and left the office, pulling the door closed behind her. Ignoring the questioning glances of the rest of her team - most noticeably Provenza, who threw a pointed look at her office door when his partner failed to emerge - she left the murder room, heading determinedly towards Assistant Chief Taylor’s office.
✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻
Russell Taylor’s expression was unreadable as Sharon stood in front of his desk, and she began to wonder if he had even heard what she had just said to him.
“I know I said at the beginning that our relationship wouldn’t affect our work,” she continued quickly. “And that is still the case, Sir, but I can’t just let him…”
Taylor held a hand up to stop her.
“It’s alright, Captain. Of course you should go - I’d think less of you if you hadn’t wanted to.”
Now it was Sharon’s turn to stare blankly. Did he really just agree to this with no argument? Where was the anger, the sarcasm, the thinly-veiled contempt that she was so used to? Not that she was ungrateful for his surprisingly accommodating attitude, but she was sure there must be a catch somewhere.
“Obviously, if something happens and I’m needed here, I’ll come right back…”
“Sharon.” He halted her speech again. “Where you are needed right now is with Lieutenant Flynn. Provenza and I can manage things here for a few days, I’m sure.”
Sharon almost cringed just thinking about that.
“Go, Captain.” He said firmly. “Be with Flynn.” He couldn’t hide his smile at the look of shock that she had failed to keep from her face. “Look, Captain - we may not always get along, but we always look after our own. Consider this my way of doing that.”
She still wasn’t completely convinced, but she decided to take what she could get and deal with the consequences later. Besides, it was only a few weeks before Christmas - maybe this was just Taylor’s own special brand of goodwill…
“Thank you, Sir,” she murmured, heading for the door before the man could change his mind.
“I’ll see you in a few days,” he smiled. “And Captain…”
“Yes, Chief?” Here it came, Sharon thought. The catch that she had been waiting for.
Her eyes widened in surprise.
“Um, thank you, Chief Taylor…” Sharon offered him a small wave and a bewildered expression as she left his office, closing the door firmly behind her on what had to be the oddest conversation she’d had all year.
✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻
Entering her office, Sharon found Andy seated once more in the chair before her desk. He was vaguely flicking through one of the reports from their last case, more for something to occupy his hands than out of any desire to actually read it. He looked up as she entered and she moved to stand behind him, squeezing his shoulders as she dropped a kiss on the top of his head. He tossed the file onto her desk and leaned back in response, covering one of her hands with his own and lacing their fingers together, before bringing their joined hands to his lips and tenderly kissing her palm.
“The flight to New York leaves first thing tomorrow morning,” Sharon informed him softly, running her fingers through his hair. “Gavin knows someone at the airline, he’s managed to arrange an upgrade for us.”
“That’s…great.” Andy swallowed hard. Apparently he was really doing this. “Wait…” Her words had suddenly registered with him. “…us?”
She moved around in front of him before sitting once more on her desk.
“Of course us,” she smiled. “You didn’t really think I’d let you do this alone, did you?”
His grateful smile told her all she needed to know - this had definitely been the right call, whatever price she may have to pay with Taylor later. Andy stood, placing his hands on either side of her face and kissing her hard.
“Thank you,” he whispered, his forehead briefly touching hers before he pulled back and turned, heading for the exit. He paused with his hand on the door handle and Sharon nodded at him, suddenly overcome with emotion herself.
Whatever the next few days may have in store for them, she was sure they could get through it together.
✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻
Placing her small suitcase by the front door, Sharon sighed deeply. She was spending the night with Andy so that they could leave together for the airport in the morning. They had an early start, so being in the same place made sense. If she were being completely truthful with herself, she also wanted to make sure that he was alright - and leaving him alone for the night did not seem like the best option for ensuring his emotional wellbeing. At least with her there, he would have support if he needed it.
And she had a feeling that he would need it.
Pasting what she hoped was a convincingly bright smile on her face, Sharon turned to face her youngest son, who was hovering beside her, obviously concerned about the unfolding events.
“So,” she said quickly. “I’ll text you when we’re leaving in the morning, and again when we get there.”
Rusty rolled his eyes and nodded.
“I know, Sharon. We’ve been over this.”
He grinned at her, not really annoyed. Truth be told, he rather liked having someone in his life who cared enough to fuss over him like this.
“And if you need anything…”
“I’ll call Lieutenant Provenza, or Buzz, or Lieutenant Tao. But I won’t need anything, Sharon. You don’t need to worry about me.”
But she did, anyway. She smiled at him again, the warmth finally reaching her eyes, and her heart constricted with the love she felt for this boy. Her boy.
“You just go and take care of Flynn, okay?”
Rusty’s concern was genuine. He had grown to care a great deal for Andy in the last few months, particularly since he and Sharon had started dating. He made Sharon happy which, in turn, made Rusty happy. They may appear to be an odd little family unit from the outside, but it worked for them - and there was real affection there.
“I will do my best.”
Sharon’s smile faltered as she ruffled his hair with her fingertips, and she swallowed hard in an attempt to keep her emotions at bay long enough to get out of the condo without worrying her son. Unfortunately, she had forgotten just how perceptive Rusty could be when he wanted to.
He studied her for a moment, as if wondering whether to pose the question that was playing on his mind. Eventually, he decided that it couldn’t hurt to ask.
“Why is he so afraid of going back there, Sharon?”
She paused, surprised that he had enquired so directly - and not entirely sure how to answer him.
“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “But he’ll talk about it when he’s ready.”
As Rusty’s arms came around her in a tight hug, she could only hope that those words would prove to be true.