Gathering the squad for a day of leisure had gotten marginally easier over the past year and a half, but their most notable aid was that they were no longer a squad.
At first, though she knew it could save her life, retirement depressed Sharon. After years of serving the LAPD, pioneering legislation that would help the women who joined and served after her, Sharon’s own body forced her into retirement. Andy tried to interpret the situation as a decision rather than defeat, but it only reminded her that with her badge, she would lose part of what made her strong.
“It just shows where your priorities are, babe. Look at the alternative.”
Neither of them wanted to consider the still plausible alternative, especially with a sizeable dent in her armor.
Strength was easier to find with discernable hope. In a transplant ward, despite the cheery staff, hope hid well. Logically, Sharon knew that her might was not entirely tied to her badge. The principles that prompted her to defend that badge and the city it represented remained; she simply had to find another way to apply them. For weeks, they were only applied when her kids or members of her division visited, ever diligent in their efforts to lift her spirits. She smiled and laughed occasionally, when she knew they needed to feel like it was working. Only Andy, who held her after everyone left, truly knew her doubt and fear.
“What if it’s all for nothing?”
They were breaking the rules one night, spooning on Sharon’s sterile mattress. Phillip Stroh died in an inferno that ended a high-speed LAPD pursuit that afternoon, so Sharon was convinced she and Andy earned this small mercy. Andy tucked his jacket around her since she preferred to be wrapped in that than in the sheets. Despite all the time Andy spent at the hospital, the leather still smelled like home.
“What if I die anyway?”’
Andy tugged Sharon closer and squeezed her tighter. It hurt him to hear her say it, but they were past hiding their fears from one another just because they processed them differently. “I only have a selfish answer to that,” he murmured into her neck. “The kids and I spent Christmas with you. Hell, it’s January, and we’ve still got the damn tree in here.”
It felt good to genuinely giggle. Across the room, the twinkle lights on the miniature Christmas tree served as the only light to the room.
“It’s hard to find a bright side in this that does justice to you,” Andy continued, running his hand over Sharon’s legging-clad hip. “I wish I knew what to say. You know my views on this.”
Sharon snorted. “Yes, that I’ll live forever, and everything will be fine.” She recoiled at her misdirected bitterness and contempt. She rolled over, always mindful of the wires, and repeatedly apologized between kisses to Andy’s cheeks, forehead, and lips. “That was insensitive. I don’t know what to do with this helplessness, but that’s not it.” Sharon raked her fingernails through Andy’s hair and breathed a sigh of relief when Andy kissed her free hand. “There’s nothing more we can do but what we’re already doing. I hate it, but I know Father Stan and Dr. Torres and the kids and you—“she gave him an Eskimo kiss—“are right.” I have to give up my control.
Five days later, Sharon had a heart.
During the first days of her recovery (after she could form coherent thought), Sharon thought a lot about that conversation with Andy and its subsequent revelation. She worried that without being in that incapacitating situation, she could never overcome her fear of helplessness. After the surgery, her displaced determination and unquenchable restlessness were applied to her recovery, and she had no occasion to confront the possibility of futility on such a large scale as she had to before. In the early days, she couldn’t feed herself without help, but there was hope. After the transplant, it was easier to hold onto the hope that she wouldn’t have to face that fear of not knowing until she was ready to accept it.
Sharon’s division, in one combination or another, visited her at least once a week, both at home and at the hospital. Mike consistently presented her with flowers, even when the condo functioned more as a greenhouse than a home. Patrice always brought Provenza and a casserole, some of which her husband always managed to get a serving of. Andrea usually brought Amy, who was more eager to ask questions, or Morales, who offered unsolicited medical advice based on his experience with the dead. Nolan smuggled contraband chocolate during his visits, and Cami contributed lengthy awkward silences for fear of interrupting Sharon in her own home. Buzz let Sharon borrow his seasons of Badge of Justice, much to Andy’s disdain.
Julio’s first home visit, however, would be the first step to the true disbandment of the Major Crimes Division. Sharon knew she was missed, but her lieutenants, Julio, and Buzz, as true veterans of the 9th floor, had transitioned through two buildings, one explosion inside the second building, and two strong women who changed them in their own ways. When Julio sat down across from his recovering commander, eyes flickering to Mark, who colored with Rusty at the kitchen table, Sharon already knew.
“Ma’am,” Julio began, eyes jumping from his folded hands to her wistful smile, “please understand that I wanted to talk to you about this first.” He spoke to her as if she would waltz into her office on Monday, usurping their newly appointed commander. “But then—“
“Everything went to hell?” Sharon held out her hand. “Julio, I know.” Andy told me weeks ago, was best left unspoken. “I’m so happy for you.” She craned her neck to look at Mark and Rusty, who were arguing over the shade of red to color Mr. Incredible. “It’s worth it,” she murmured, squeezing Julio’s hand. “It’s worth it.”
In April, Amy was appointed to the head of the Gang and Narcotics Division. Amy’s was the first party Sharon had thrown since her wedding, and for once she didn’t mind being cooped up in the condo. Though Amy started out as a pain in all their asses, she’d grown and flourished under Sharon’s leadership, and now she would have an opportunity to make a name for herself. Sharon quickly realized that if she thought about that for too long, she started to cry, but Andy managed to make it stop with a handkerchief and a hug.
When Amy left, Andy had only been back at work for a month, and while he adjusted well to the new commander’s regime, the best part of his day was when Sharon took him to lunch or brought him decaf coffee that didn’t taste like disposable cups or pulverized coffee filters. After one of her follow-up visists one afternoon, he kissed Sharon goodbye and lingered until they were making out in the PAB parking garage.
“I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” Andy panted against her lips.
“You married me, so I think we’re on the right track,” Sharon teased.
Andy beamed and cupped Sharon’s face in his hands. “No, I want to sleep in with you, grocery shop for you, have lunch in our kitchen in the middle of the day, plan a vacation that doesn’t hinge on a murder-free weekend.”
Sharon smiled hesitantly, as she had when he asked her to marry him. “You want to retire? Grow old with me?”
“More than anything,” Andy murmured.
Andy offended Sharon’s sense of occasion by insisting on a dinner at the squad’s favorite Mexican restaurant. Sharon retaliated by renting out the joint so to accommodate a larger, come and go crowd that Andy, with his stubborn self-deprecation, hadn’t expected.
Six months after Andy, Mike retired after thirty-five years of service. While his retirement party took place in a sizeable condo on the beach (much better suited to Sharon’s sense of occasion), Provenza insisted on throwing the after party, most of which took place at a bar during a special combination of Karaoke and Ladies’ Night.
Now, here they all were, the freed Major Crimes Division, celebrating one of the first days warm enough for the beach. Mike’s retirement had proved particularly lucrative for their get-togethers, since he and Kathy bought a beach-side bungalow, maintained by his more frequent consultations on Badge of Justice. Umbrellas, beach chairs, and soccer balls dotted the sandy backyard, and various flotation devices, a water football, and the kids ebbed in the ocean.
Sharon, Andy, Provenza, and Patrice were the only ones onshore. Andrea, Morales, Mike, Buzz, and Cami lounged on their floatable chairs, while Nolan, Amy, Julio and Mark played a rather savage game of water football. Rusty had his younger sister for the weekend, so he waded in the shallows with Abby, recording her every squeal and giggle.
“Hey, Provenza?” Andy said, perched on a towel between Sharon’s legs while she rubbed sunscreen into his already pink shoulders. “The great thing about retirement is that you could do this every day.”
Provenza ineffectively rubbed at the sunscreen he applied to his nose for the seventeenth time that day. Somehow, he thought the white hat and the umbrella didn’t provide him with enough protection. “Yet another reason not to retire.”
Patrice didn’t bother to open her eyes, hidden behind her sunglasses, as she sighed her husband’s name. “Sharon, toss me another beer, will you?”
Sharon rubbed the excess sunscreen onto her legs and snorted. “I’ll pass you the whole cooler,” she offered, but she allowed Andy to heave the cooler to Patrice. “Honey, you want to take a dip with me?”
Kissing the inside of her knee, Andy smiled. “Anytime, babe, skinny or otherwise.”
“Ye gods, you both disgust me,” Provenza groaned when Sharon didn’t admonish him.
Sharon, as usual, ignored Provenza’s grumbles and hauled Andy to the ocean with her. She tugged down on the top of her coral, high-waisted two-piece swimsuit, the first one she’d worn since the transplant. The top covered her chest, but the scar peeked out of the bottom of it.
Before Andy could assuage her insecurity, Abby splashed toward them. The two-year-old timed her stumble ill and ended up knocking her chin against one of Sharon’s knees. Rusty started to jog over when Abby cried, but Sharon waved him off as she plucked Abby from the water. “I’ve got her!” she called out over the crash of the waves and Abby’s wails. Since Rusty had moved into his own apartment three months prior, he had Abby all to himself for 48 hours. As much as Sharon enjoyed the idea of baby karma, she figured he could use the break.
“Aw, come on Abs,” Andy cooed, checking her wide open mouth for blood. “No blood, no tears!”
Sharon brushed back Abby’s salty, wet hair and rocked her slowly. “Don’t listen to Andy,” she said. “That hurt. It’s okay to cry.” They had been at the beach for two hours already, and Sharon had a feeling Abby’s tears had more to do with fatigue than actual pain.
The glare Abby shot Andy was too much like Rusty’s for him to ignore. “Okay, fine, I’ll go away.” He winked at Sharon and swam ten yards to the football game, tackling Julio as an entrance.
Sharon rubbed Abby’s back as she waded in further, until the water lapped against her waist. Abby’s wails subsided to sniffles, and Sharon could feel her breathing slow.
It was hard to compare her life now with what it had been at the time of her diagnosis. In the past year and a half, she’d gone from the happiest, to the most depressed, to the luckiest. Though it hadn’t crossed her mind in a while, she wondered again if she had died before a heart came, if it would have been worth giving up the part of her identity that was tied to her work, succumbing to the demands of her disease. Of course, now, surrounded by her dearest friends and family, everything felt worth it. When Rusty finally decided he could rely on his independence, it felt worth it. When she and Andy traveled to New York after New Years to see Emily dance, it felt worth it. When Ricky brought home the young woman he’d been seeing for a year to Thanksgiving, it felt worth it. When everything was wonderful, Sharon couldn’t go back to that place she’d been before, so scared that she was ready to give up. Though she’d gone through it once, she wasn’t sure how it would feel if she had to do it again. What if Andy wasn’t there the next time?
Sharon shook her head quickly and held slumbering Abby tighter. It wasn’t her job to be able to predict and plan for those situations. If she could, she wouldn’t have been so scared during that awful holiday season. All she knew was what she had waiting for her if she persevered, which was more than she knew before. Sharon Raydor was no longer a cop, and, as hard as that was for her to accept, retirement allowed her to work closely with the charities and organizations she only had time to donate to before. She could invest her time and her compassion in living people, both those in her life and those she endeavored to help.
Difficult as it was to identify at the time, watching her kids decorate the tiny Christmas tree in her hospital room bred happiness. Even if that was their last Christmas together, who was she to rob her family, herself, of precious time because she was afraid to be remembered as broken? Sharon’s parents had been ill for the last few months of their lives, but just because illness took them in the end didn’t mean she remembered them that way. When Sharon thought of her mother, she remembered her love of performance, her theatrical readings of Winnie the Pooh and The Adventures of Peter Cottontail. She remembered her father’s powerful passion for and defense of justice, second only to the power of his love for his baby girl.
Whatever else her life could have been, whatever abbreviated time she could have enjoyed feeling strong and in control, Sharon preferred this version, one that bred vulnerability and unpredictability.
“Sharon?” Andrea interrupted Sharon’s introspection with a hand on her arm. When Sharon looked over, Andrea blue eyes reflected more than mild concern, and Andy lingered on the shore while the rest of the posse headed inside. They must have been calling her. “We’re heading in for a lunch break—you coming?”
Sharon smiled and nodded. She winced when she realized she must have been leaning back while rocking Abby. “Would you mind taking her? My back is killing me. She’s getting too big.”
Sharon might as well have asked Andrea to hold a python. “You want me to hold a baby?” she asked, one hand on her wind-swept floppy hat.
“She’s asleep, Andrea,” Sharon sighed. “She won’t bite.”
Andrea shot Sharon a look. “I’m not worried about biting. I’m worried about crying and drooling.” When Sharon winced again, Andrea didn’t question whether it was genuine or not. “Fine, hand it over. But Rusty’s got another year added to lawn mowing duty.” During the transfer, Abby only roused for long enough to latch onto Andrea, who grimaced immediately.
“Thank you,” Sharon said, rubbing her back. “Go ahead, I’ll catch up.” She spent a few moments working the kinks out of her back before trudging to the shore, where, as always, Andy was waiting.
“You okay?” Andy asked. Usually his over-attentiveness irritated Sharon, but today she felt benevolent.
“Fine, Abby’s just growing too fast for me to hold her for so long,” Sharon explained. She looped her arm through his and winked. “I might just need those magic hands later.”
Andy kissed her head. “You know I’m always happy to oblige,” he murmured. He rubbed her upper arm as they moseyed up to the house. “What were you thinking about?”
Sharon leaned her head against Andy’s shoulder. “Something I’m done worrying about.”