A/N: Like many of us, I've been wanting to tackle THE cliffhanger that's had us all biting our nails since August. Since it's less than three weeks to go to the next episode (GAH! The last stretch is always the hardest!), it felt like a good time to get to it before it's too late! This story came as prompt from a friend on "what happens after the letters come out" and "Rusty meets Sharon's family". This is my take on how those two things might co-occur.

Main characters listed are Sharon, Rusty, Flynn and Provenza, but this will be a mostly Sharon/Rusty story. I'm a sucker for their plot, and will possibly cry if he goes away permanently. Hints of romantic pairings, if any, will remain strictly in cannon range (or... mostly strictly).

The story is 90% written and will probably span about 10-12 chapters. I'm aiming to post one every couple of days, to finish it right in time for the next episode.

This starts two days after the ending of "Poster Boy"...

No Such Thing as a Perfect Family (1)

"I want a gun."

Captain Sharon Raydor paused mid-sentence, her head automatically turning to her young charge; she stared at him with eyebrows lifted slightly.

Rusty stared back determinedly.

Sharon lowered her head just a notch in a slightly warning way, held it for a moment, then turned back to the two lieutenants currently in the squad room: "As I was saying, Lieutenant Provenza, I know Mr. Starling's office doesn't work on Sundays, but given that someone just stabbed one of their directors fourteen times," she emphasized the words with a meaningful arch of her eyebrows, "I'm sure they'll find the time to come in and give you access to their records. Feel free to give them our apologies for the inconvenience."

Provenza affected a sour mien. "Yeah, I'm real worried that they'll be inconvenienced working on a Sunday," he grumbled. "Who's giving me apologies?"

"You're getting overtime," his partner, Lt. Andy Flynn, pointed out.

"I could use both," countered Provenza.

"And we could use those records right now," the Captain prompted, "so if –"

"I'm serious. I want a gun."

Her lips pursed for the slightest second. " –if you could please contact the office –"

"Hello! Did I suddenly turn invisible? Or are you all just practicing for when I'm not gonna be here anymore." The last words were accompanied by a dark glare.

Sharon let out a slow breath. "Excuse me for a moment, Lieutenants." Turning to give Rusty her full attention, she held out a hand in the direction of her office. "Let's talk."

Closing the door to her office, Sharon turned to see Rusty standing at the far end with a tense, wary expression, and braced herself.

"You said I didn't have to, you said you –" He bit off the words, pressing his lips together angrily. "Were you just, what, making stuff up to keep me quiet, in Taylor's office?"

She instinctively winced at the memory of those moments; she could still feel how her blood had run cold when DDA Rios had shown her the letters. Thinking back on that one, dreadful, instant was enough to make her heat beat louder.

Just the fact that she still had Rusty now, two days later, was nothing short of a miracle.

And maybe a short-lived one, at that.

"I know what I said, Rusty," she replied softly, "and I meant it. We're doing everything possible to make sure you don't get moved again…"

"Then what was that woman doing at your house yesterday?"

He was not in an understanding mood, not that she could blame him. But it only made things harder.

"I explained to you already, DDA Rios came to discuss options…"

"Options. Options like the Broods? Because I don't know what…what definition you're using here," he sputtered, "but that's not an option, Sharon!"

She closed her eyes briefly; she could have throttled Rios for bringing that up the day before. If Rusty hadn't erupted in indignation before she'd had a chance to react, Sharon was fairly sure she would have said something equally unwise. Now, however, there was nothing to do but try to make him less scared about the prospect.

"The Broades have dealt with DCFS in the past, Rusty," she consoled. "They're a nice family. If it comes to –"

"Well don't let it come to it, then!" Definitely not in an understanding mood. "I don't care how nice they are and I definitely don't want to meet them!"

"Rusty, I understand that…but, there might not be a choice –"

"You said there would be a choice! Remember that? You said I'd have a choice!"

She had, and now she was sorry to have spoken without thinking. But Rusty's expression in Chief Taylor's office had been so hopeless, so desolate that it had broken her heart. She barely remembered what she'd told him; she'd have said anything to make that inconsolable misery go away.

Friday had been a horrible, horrible day. From the second DDA Rios had called her into Taylor's office and shown her the letters, Sharon had known the time had come for battle. But what she remembered most strongly now was the shock. She'd been caught so utterly unawares. Stunned to see the pile of ominous yellowed papers, to realize what it meant, to grasp what she had missed that entire time.

And then she had pushed the shock away and stalled, stalled and evaded and prayed for a solution to occur to her.

Nothing had.

And now she and Rusty were just biding their time.

Things were precarious between them, emotions running high and words left unspoken as she scrambled frantically for a last-minute fix and he tried to deal with the maelstrom of worries, regrets and insecurities. It was much for an adult to take, let alone a teenager - and Rusty wasn't taking it well. After Rios' visit things had mostly just gone downhill, with the rest of Saturday a nerve-racking swing from panicked anger to gloomy silence.

By the looks of it, today promised no improvement. "I want a gun."

With a sigh, Sharon just picked a reason and didn't even bother to list the million others that made the request outrageous. "You're too young to own a gun."

"I'm not too young to be threatened," he protested. "I'm not too young to be shot at! I don't see what's wrong with having a way to protect myself."

"Rusty." He didn't want a gun, he wanted a reassurance; one that sadly she could not give him. "I'm doing everything I can to make sure your best interest comes first in this situation."

It broke her heart a little when he just crossed his arms stubbornly.

They had both been too shocked to talk much about it the day it happened. After the atrocious meeting in Chief Taylor's office, it had been everything Sharon could do to get them both in the car and drive home.

Her stalling, at least, had paid off. She'd kept Rios from doing anything until Rusty came in from school, and by the time he gave his side of the story, and the arguing and the pleading and the recriminations were over, it was evening and not even Emma Rios could file a motion at 7 p.m. on a Friday. Not that the woman hadn't planned to call a judge the very next morning, but somehow Sharon had dissuaded that, proposing instead to meet at her house and 'discuss options'.

Come Saturday, she had come to regret that move, but she couldn't have known ahead of time just how badly Rusty would take her and Rios meeting amiably at the house to talk of compromise.

And everything else aside, that meeting had bought her all of Friday evening, every second of which Sharon had spent gathering an arsenal of tactics and taking inventory of every favor she was owed and every string she could pull. The second that DDA Rios walked out of her house Saturday, promising to be back with a court order as soon as she could pull a judge off a golf court, Sharon had picked up the phone and launched a preemptive strike. In doing so, she had reneged on every reassurance she had just given Rios, and probably killed any chance of peaceful collaboration, but if that's what it took, then it was a small price.

The question was whether or not she'd manage to make any difference at all.

"There's nothing to do but wait and see what happens."

She realized she'd spoken out loud when Rusty exploded: "Are you serious? Wait and see what other people decide about what I'm supposed to do? How is that fair!"

"It's not," Sharon agreed quietly. "But it's … what it is."

If only he had told her earlier. If only she had thought to ask. If only Kris had come to her, not Rios.

Sharon shook her head to chase those thoughts away. It was too late for any of that. "It'll be okay, Rusty."

The corners of his lips drew downward. "I can tell when you're lying, you know."

"Whatever happens –"

"Stop saying that!" he threw his hands in the air. "I don't want to hear 'whatever happens', I don't want anything else to happen!" He gave her an angry, desperate look. "Why is it so much to ask for nothing to happen?!"

When Sharon took a step toward him, he just backpedalled, and she instantly pulled back.

"Just… " Rusty clenched his jaw to keep his voice from shaking. "Just… leave me alone."

And he pulled open the door and rushed out, ignoring the two lieutenants and making a beeline for the conference room, where he all but barricaded himself before dropping heavily into a chair, his back resolutely turned to the rest of them.

His light sort of half-knock was unnecessary, since the door was still wide open from when Rusty had flung it a minute before – but Lieutenant Andy Flynn knew better than to barge into his Captain's office unannounced, open door or not.

Especially given the manner of the young man's departure. He gave Captain Raydor a cautious look. "You okay…?"

She was leaning against the desk, arms crossed, a faraway expression in her eyes. She looked up slowly at his entrance, and sighed.

"How do I explain to a child that he can't just have a normal life, even for a little while, because others won't let him?"

Flynn winced in sympathy. "It's a tough situation." And it was. Not just for her, either. The whole team had slowly come to see Rusty as more or less a permanent fixture. However pissed and betrayed they might have felt over him hiding the damn letters, they'd all been sobered by the prospect of his abrupt and imminent departure.

None like the Captain, though. They all knew that was a whole different story, and when she nodded sadly in reply to his statement, Flynn felt the need to say more. "You're doing everything you can. Kid's lucky to have you in his corner."

She slowly shook her head. "Is he?" There was a harsher note in her soft tone. "Because whatever else, I can't deny DDA Rios' point. If I had been more careful, if I had acted more like a police officer and less like…" She pressed her lips together, her gaze fixed somewhere beyond him. "I could have, should have, stopped the situation from reaching this point."

"You can't blame yourself for wanting to give him a home," he said quietly.

"It wasn't my job to give him a home; my job was to give him a safe house. And because I didn't do things the right way, now he's having his life turned upside down again, and he's in danger."

"Well, you sure didn't do things the proper way," Provenza's voice came from the door, "we could've all told you that about two days into this whole mess. But," he shrugged, "who's to say what's the right way?"

She shot him a forlorn look, and he stepped fully into the office, holding up a thin stack of papers.

"FID's all-clear on the North case. They just faxed it to us; someone's been working overtime down there, too."

It took a moment of staring at the papers, her brow still furrowed, before the Captain realized what he was talking about: "Thank you, Lieutenant. I'll pass this on to Chief Taylor tomorrow morning..." She transitioned into business mode again; after all they were all here on a Sunday and it wasn't for no reason. "Any luck with the Starling's office?"

Provenza rumbled a long-suffering sigh. "They'll send his assistant to help," he made it sound like a grand favor. "Sanchez and Sykes volunteered to drive over and go through the files." He shrugged at Raydor's pointed look. "What? I said 'volunteered'…!"

The other lieutenant let out an incredulous, if amused, scoff, earning himself a sideways glare.

"No one asked you, Flynn."

The man held up his hands in mock-surrender.

Detective Sanchez looked up from his desk when the Captain and the two lieutenants walked over from her office. "Simpson's girlfriend is in interview 1. Says she hasn't seen him since Friday."

Raydor let out a noncommittal hum. "Do we believe her?"

"She was working the night shift over at UCLA's medical center, so she's got an alibi. Sykes is checking it now," he motioned to the woman at the other desk, who was speaking softly into the phone, "but I'd say it'll hold."

"Thank you." Sharon turned to Provenza. "When will Mr. Starling's assistant be ready to turn over the files?"

"She said an hour."

She thought for a moment, and suggested: "Get there fifteen minutes early." It never hurt to make sure the victim's employers weren't making a desperate shredder marathon. "I'll interview the girlfriend…" she gave them a questioning glance.

"Gina Bailey," Detective Sykes supplied from her desk, having just gotten off the phone. "Her alibi checks out; she was at the hospital until nine this morning."

The Captain nodded her thanks. "Detective Sanchez, Detective Sykes, please get copies of all of our victim's client files, as well as the names of any companies he may have consulted for in his private time. And see if he had any problems with any of his colleagues, or if anyone he worked with may have had any reason to dislike him…" She trailed off at the unwelcome sight of someone else walking up the corridor to them.

Provenza scoffed. "Speaking of disliking people you work with…"

"Forced to work with," Flynn corrected under his breath.

Captain Raydor motioned Sanchez and Sykes to get started, before turning her attention back to the other woman. When their eyes met, she involuntarily squared her shoulders and raised her chin; by the look on Rios's face, she had run up against Sharon's preemptive measures, and was not happy about it.

Then the Captain noticed that the DDA was not alone, and when she realized who the strangers were accompanying Rios, profound consternation spread over her features.

A/N: This is my first MC story, so it's a totally new sandbox to play in and I have barely any idea what I'm doing! Feedback is immensely useful and appreciated. Thank you for reading!