... ... ...
Andy reluctantly left Sharon's office. He knew there was nothing further he could do right now but that didn't make it any easier to accept.
As he walked back to his desk he found himself under surveillance from the only other person there at that time of night. He had thought that everyone had left. Evidently, Provenza had returned.
Provenza's eyes followed him as he crossed the room to sit, one eyebrow raised in that manner that implied he was expecting you to address what was on his mind.
"What?" Andy enquired, knowing it was best to get it over with.
Provenza kept his eyes trained on Andy and he couldn't help but feel that his reaction to whatever his partner had to say would be closely studied.
"You and Captain Raydor seem to be getting quite... close."
Said reaction was to roll his eyes, which then promptly betrayed him and looked in the direction of Sharon's office. "I'm just being a friend. She needs friends right now."
Provenza just nodded, slowly and infuriatingly, as if he didn't buy that for a second.
"That's all it is!" Andy continued, "We've all been rallying to - Since Rusty left, we -"
"The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks," Provenza remarked, with doctored Shakespeare.
"What? No!" Andy argued, cringing even as that further protest left his lips. "I'm just making sure she's okay... Because she's not, but she won't admit it."
Provenza nodded. "She's tough."
"She is." He didn't realise his lips had curved into a smile of admiration until he saw Provenza react to it with a smirk.
Andy shot a glare across the desks and was met by a plea of complete innocence before the serious truth of the situation returned to settle on them.
"You should suggest that she goes home," Provenza stated.
"I've done that." He had. Three times. She had brushed each one off with the excuse of 'paperwork'.
"You should insist," the other man responded, standing from his seat.
"That's my plan." He had come out here to give her twenty minutes for 'paperwork' then he intended to ensure that she left. Somehow.
Provenza nodded. "Good." He picked up his phone. "Better not forget this again," he quipped and Andy assumed that was why he had come back to the office. This talk probably explained why he had hung around.
Provenza nodded again and turned away.
Andy let his eyes drift towards Sharon's door again but quickly looked back when Provenza spoke.
"Andy, I said you were getting close..."
Andy frowned, not seeing where he was going with that.
He continued, "I didn't say I thought it was a bad thing."
With that he left Andy to his surprise.
Staring at the spot his friend had vacated, those last words echoed in Andy's head. They were not at all what he had expected Provenza would say. They were not what he had thought anyone on the team would say, which was why he had spent weeks reminding himself that he should not be developing feelings for his boss. Yet the feelings wouldn't abate and, in fact, grew stronger each time he saw her. So much so that the need to protect her at the moment was overwhelming.
"You're not going to leave until I do, are you?"
The voice startled him out of his reflection. He turned to face Sharon, shaking his head to answer her question. "I have paperwork."
He was pleased to see a smile creep onto her face, brief as it was.
As the smile withdrew the now painfully familiar look of loss retook its place. She nodded once, acknowledging that she understood the problem at hand: She needed to go home. Her eyes left his, flitting around the space - towards the door; over the desks; to the spot where Rusty would often sit. Quickly they were back on his, a heartbreaking tremble on her lips as she said, "It's too quiet at home."
Her soft voice was loud in the silence of the office, almost mocking her words.
"Not that he was a noisy houseguest, he -" She cut herself off and he watched her forcefully swallow down her next words, her head shaking, her eyes once more breaking away from his.
He stood up and moved towards her, pleased that she looked at him again, but not pleased that the smile she offered was tearful and completely forced.
When he was close enough to make the conversation feel secure - even though no one else was there - he encouraged, "You can say it."
She frowned as if questioning his meaning. He played along. "What you just stopped yourself from saying. You can say it."
Anxious eyes looked back at him.
"Sharon, you need to say it out loud," he spoke softly.
The eyes slipped away again but before he needed his next prompt her quiet voice broke the heavy silence.
"He wasn't a guest. He was home, Andy, he was - I should have seen - I should have known - I should have - I was supposed to protect him."
"Sharon, you did everything you could. You're still doing everything you can."
She shook her head vehemently. "I didn't... If I had, he'd be here. He'd be at home. You and I wouldn't be -" She cut herself off again and he watched her push her defences back up.
He withheld his sigh of disappointment, trying to be grateful that she had at least released what she had.
"I'm sorry, Lieutenant. It's late. We should... go." Her voice cracked on the last word but she remained determined to return to formality.
"Let me drive you home," he offered, needing to do something else, and sure that she would otherwise just come straight back when he had left.
"I have my car," she answered, her tone adding a 'that won't be necessary'.
His next offer was out before he had fully thought about it. "I could follow you home; keep you company for a while."
Her eyes widened in surprise, but he was glad to see amusement in them, rather than horror.
"I'm just repaying the favour from when you invited yourself to my daughter's wedding," he explained.
She laughed at that and it was genuine, but, like the earlier genuine smile, it was short lived. "I should let you get home."
He shrugged that off. "I won't sleep anyway wondering if you doubled back and returned to your office the minute we parted."
She looked concerned by that, perhaps afraid that they were getting too close. "You shouldn't worry about me so much."
He tried to make light of his response; he didn't want to scare her away from even a friendship. "And yet I do," he said with a pleasant smile. "So, you see, it'd be better all round to take me up on my invitation."
She still looked uncertain so he smiled reassuringly. Whether that influenced her or not, he didn't know, but she did give in shortly after.
"If you really don't mind, then it would be better than staying here any longer."
"I'll try to take that as a compliment."
There was a glimpse of another real smile before Sharon excused herself to collect her things. Andy headed for his desk to do the same, stopping though when she said his name. She had paused in the doorway.
"Thank you," she said, quietly but firmly.
He shrugged again. "I'm just repaying the favour."
He endeavoured to keep the conversation on miscellaneous, unimportant topics while they walked to their cars and, again, when they walked up to her apartment. If she was to have any chance of getting some sleep, her mind needed to calm down. He was in no doubt that she still needed to voice aloud what she was obviously repeating over and over to herself. If she brought it up, then of course he would be there for her, but his priority for tonight was to get her to rest. He suspected she had spent very little time doing that recently.
They settled on water to drink, given the late hour, and he managed to distract her with stories from when he and Provenza first met and started working together. It was impossible to not laugh at some of those tales.
He watched her gradually relax, curling her legs up in front of her between them on the couch; laying her head, from time to time, on the back cushion. As the first hour passed he could tell her eyelids were growing heavy but knew that the action of ending his visit would likely wake her and bring back all the angst he had pushed aside. So, he asked to use the bathroom and, upon returning, found her - as he had expected he would - sleeping. It wasn't ideal; it certainly wasn't the most comfortable she could have been, but it was better than nothing. She would probably wake up in an hour, if that, and they would have to face reality again. He knew she would get little sleep after that. So this really was the best solution.
Not wanting her to awake to both the onslaught of unhappy reality and being alone, he retook his position next to her.
He became aware, at one point, that she had stretched her legs, her ankles coming to rest in his lap. He blinked sleep ridden eyes and looked over at her. She was still soundly ensconced in her sleep. He smiled and returned to his.
Gentle nudging and repeating of his name woke him the next time. He opened his eyes but, on trying to move his head, found that his neck was incredibly stiff. He shifted his eyes to greet Sharon who was perched on the edge of the couch, looking at him with a combination of guilt, amusement and that heart wrenching sadness.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "Are you okay? You can't have been comfortable."
He forced his head to move, rolling it until the tension eased. "I'm fine." He doubted he looked convincing.
"It's nearly six," she told him. "Six hours with your head at that angle, I'm surprised you can move." She still sounded apologetic.
The key information he took from that was that she had slept for nearly six hours: That was all that mattered.
"I'm fine," he repeated, stretching his back next and rubbing a hand across his tired eyes.
When he next opened them, Sharon was standing opposite him, her fingers twisting in front of her in nervous apprehension. And it occurred to him that this probably should feel as awkward as she looked. As it was, though, he just felt relieved that he had accomplished what he had set out to do.
"I should get going," he said to save her further unease. He stood, hoping he adequately hid the cringe when his lower back twinged.
"Right. Yes," she said, "Well, thank you for your company. I'm sorry I kept you out all night."
"Any time," he quipped, straightening his clothes and heading for the door. When he got there, he turned to face her. "I mean it, Sharon. Any time it's too quiet or too much: Give me a shout."
He saw her gratitude in her eyes but she said, with an attempt at a shrug, "I'll get used to it."
He smiled, sympathetically, sadly. "Maybe. But in the meantime, when it's too much or too quiet... You know where I am."
She nodded but he could see her discomfort still so he moved them on.
"See you in a couple of hours." He hated leaving her to her thoughts but was glad it was at least only for such a short time. And it wouldn't do to turn up at work in yesterday's clothes.
"Yes. Thank you, again."
"Any time," he repeated pointedly.
She nodded her appreciation and he left. He was pleased that she didn't say anything about not mentioning this at work. He hoped that meant she knew it went without saying.
As he walked to his car, he thought again about Provenza's comment the night before: They were getting closer and it definitely wasn't a bad thing. She needed a friend and he was happy to be able to be that. He suspected it was going to be a battle to get her to fully accept his support, though. But it was a battle he was prepared to fight. And win.