1. The biker bar, undercover
"Prison," Shawn said darkly. The biker with the pool cue scooted down a couple of stools, while the bartender eyed them up, trying to decide if they were serious or not. He peered at Gus in particular, the briefcase, khakis and polo ensemble clearly putting him at odds with the story Shawn was spinning.
"Prison, huh?" he asked, leaning over on the counter to casually show off his myriad of tattoos, including a flaming snake and a Chinese character that he said meant "killer," but actually meant "sunflower."
"It's always the quiet ones." Shawn said, his voice getting perceptibly lower. He glanced carefully to his left, where Gus was pretending to be interested in a Hot Rods and Bods calendar. "I heard Gus once killed a man because the guy took the last fresh doughnut at the Krispy Kreme, right before Gus was to order." The bartender leaned in closer, Shawn speaking now at a whisper, "Gus was never caught. Not enough of the body left around the hole..."
The bartender visibly paled, and stared at Gus over the register.
Gus just smiled politely and ordered a Grave Digger.
2. The gay bar, undercover
"Soccer camp," Shawn shouted to their suspect, over the cloud of smoke and across the table. "We were just kids. Saw him putting on his shin guards and couldn't help myself."
"I have very well-toned calves," Gus supplied.
Peter, the recently dumped kleptomaniac now stealing wedding rings, sighed wistfully.
The thrumming bass was giving Gus a headache, but a light touch on his shoulder and there was Shawn grinning like he had a plan, which never boded well.
Then Shawn started whining, and poking, and Gus guessed he was messing up the plan, so with a long-suffering look he got up from the table and told Peter he was better off being single anyway.
3. The Psych office, with baked goods
"Mffshfdhsd," is what it sounded like Shawn said, though the cupcake he was eating with alarming speed was probably distorting the speech process.
"How do you spell that?" asked their new secretary/actress, as she painstakingly tried to type without chipping her nails. She had been there three weeks, the longest one yet.
Gus ignored Shawn's mumblings, eyeing the piece of Reese's pie in the middle of a cascade of cookies, all courtesy of the baker who had thought his ex-wife was trying to kill him. (It was his dentist.)
But Isabelle must have been tired of typing, so she flashed her pretty blue eyes and fluttered her eyelashes, and Shawn swallowed and said more clearly, "Schoolyard."
She tapped her long nails against the table. "And?"
"Well, we were in grade school, and Gus here, Gus was upset because someone had stolen his Care Bear lunchbox—"
"Shawn," Gus hissed.
"Fine, his very manly Care Bear lunchbox, and somebody had called him a name, four-eyes or something. He had just moved here and was all alone, and I naturally decide to help him." Shawn was gesturing continuously, flinging cake bits every which way as he told the story.
Gus looked down at his wrist to start timing how long it would take before Shawn just flung the whole cupcake against the wall and accrued massive cleaning bills. As a blank wrist stared back at him, he then remembered that Peter had stolen his watch last week. During their karaoke duet to "Dreamgirls". Which had been videotaped, and was now circulating on Youtube under the anonymous username of "XxspencerxX," Gus sighed loudly.
"Are you bored Gus? This is your history too, dude." Shawn asked, acting affronted. "Anyway, to those paying attention, we track down the lunchbox thief and build a very elaborate trap to thwart him, and what do you know, he also had a lunch money ring on the side. We work our magic, the day is saved and Gus has the only best friend he'll ever need," Shawn finished with a flourish of crumbs.
Gus found that statement just a little sad, and was about to snap back when—
"And tell me, was this the same time he met your ego? You never seem to go anywhere without it," Isabelle said coolly, eyes flicking between Shawn and the computer screen.
Shawn looked a little taken aback, and Gus hid his smirk behind a piece of Gooey Butter Cake.
"That was the next weekend," Shawn eventually replied, his mouth twitching.
Isabelle looked over to the couch and winked at Gus. He smiled slightly and went back to the pie. Gus liked her, he really did. But the last sassy competent secretary had tried to drown Shawn in a koi pond, so he was going to keep his eye on her all the same.
4. The PD, after Chief Vick's (very) belated baby shower
"Fall, 1984. It was a cloudy and dreary afternoon, and I'm outside on the curb down from the bus stop, attempting to solve the mystery of the disappearing Parent-Teacher Meeting note. My harem of elementary school girlfriends is on their break and I'm this close to getting a suspicious-looking snail to talk, when I turn around and see this kid, screaming about aliens, and suddenly I get a He-Man lunchbox and a fruit cup to the face—"
"You did not!" Gus broke in.
"Dude, there was pineapple in the fruit cup—"
"Okay no, it was pears. Gus, you know how you gotta have sex and violence to sell the movie and keep the kiddies entertained."
"You're not making a pitch, Shawn," Gus scrunched his face up, "And pineapples are not sexy." He was tipsy, or the room was. A plastic stork went sailing by his head.
"Pineapples are the playboy bunnies of the fruit world." Shawn replied, teetering on the edge of the desk, spilling champagne all over his stork arsenal and the booties cake, " You know we could totally make a movie. The Chief could be the feisty ball-busting studio exec. Lassiter, you could so be the best boy," Shawn said, turning to find the detective staring at the coat rack "--but only once you realize the five cups of punch you just drank were spiked."
Lassiter looked suspiciously at Shawn's jacket.
"Little to the left." Shawn continued, getting another cup of the punch. "We've even got an in with Izzy. C'mon Gus-- Will, Jamie, whatever actor you want. And Jake Gyllenhall would play me, because Brad Pitt is so over, dude."
Chief Vick raised a questioning eyebrow.
"So over," Shawn insisted.
"But where's the sex?" Juliet interrupted innocently, and Shawn scooted back up on the table-- knocking a hand into the hanging lamp swaying precariously above his head--and picked up again, rambling tipsily on about their long and arduous journey through the backyard of Mrs. Mulligan, including a run-in with the Seven and Under Junior Motorcycle Gang, and, "The harem? Did I not mention the harem?"
The ending involved a black eye, a cat door, and Batman; afterwards the Chief rolled her eyes while Lassiter passed out in the plastic ficus. Gus rolled around in the office chair under the streamers, picturing the movie (Taye Diggs, no question) and wondering if he could get a writing credit since it was his life. Sort of.
A crash sounded behind him, storks flying everywhere.
5. The Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Neurology Unit, one vengeful loose light fixture later
(Plus One Way They Actually Met, But They'll Never Tell (Except to Shawn, After the Lamp Incident) Because It's Kind of Embarrassing)
1. The bus stop, second day of school, Thursday September 6, 1984, 4:04 pm
"The bus stop, stupid bus stop. Why can't the bus just take me home?" Gus mumbled to himself as he stood by the curb, watching the drama enfold on the sidewalk.
Burton "Gus" Guster sometimes thought he must be an alien, because only an alien would be this incapable of dealing with human emotions. As he watched the other boy shake in front of him, Gus wondered if on his home planet crying existed, or if they expressed sadness through much more enjoyable means, such as eating pizza or having laser beams shoot out of their eyes. Laser beams were seriously awesome.
The sniffling continued, and Gus really, really just wanted to just walk on. But as things worked out, it was cloudy and dreary and his bus buddy Evan had ditched him at the corner, threatening to "clock him" if Gus followed any further. However, his mom got mad last time he came home by himself, and being mad meant no cookies. It meant no comics.
Hence, the current situation, and the number one reason Gus hated being at a new school where he knew no one. Even worse, it was a new school with class pictures tomorrow, which meant following Evan and risking the black eye was out.
Gus basically was desperate.
And coming upon another kid his age was like a miracle, he was just sitting there alone on the curb like Gus imagined him into being. Maybe he did, how freakin' cool would that be--
Except for the crying. Gus wouldn't have imagined the crying.
He felt a sharp kick to his ankle, and looked down to see two red-rimmed eyes glaring at him, and Gus suddenly got a nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach. He hoped the boy wasn't also fond of "clocking" people.
The boy was still sniffling and staring at him, not staring, but—peering? Finally, he broke the gaze, looked at Gus's backpack, and scuffed his shoe across the payment, saying casually, "You aren't here to take my leftover lunch money, but I'll give it to you anyway if you promise to not mention the sniffling and to buy a lunchbox that doesn't have a naked man on it."
"Um," Gus said, clutching his He-Man lunchbox tightly.
He was unsure what to do, because this was not at all how he imagined the conversation going. His inner instinct screamed "flee," and Gus, always one to follow his intuition, smiled awkwardly and turned, intending to make a quick, if horrifically awkward, exit. He could live without comics for a day. Probably.
And so he would have, if not for one precisely placed rock lurking in front of his sneakers.
The ground came up quickly, lunchbox flailing into the sky, and Gus braced himself for impact, palms out and face aflame. He sprawled out on the curb, the rough pavement burning his cheek, and briefly laid there horrified until his hands started stinging, and then his eyes, and he was not--he was not--
"Well I'm not giving you and your naked lunchbox any money if you cry too," the other boy said, now towering over Gus. Gus shook his head vigorously as the shock of the fall passed over him.
"I'm not crying," Gus insisted, more to himself than anyone else, and swiped a scratched hand over his face as the kid reached out and began to pull Gus up into the sitting position.
The stranger sat on the curb, kicking at the leaves idly while Gus waited for his palms to stop throbbing (and not for the tears to dry, no, not at all). The pain started to subside, only a few scratches, and he was a mature, intelligent, nine-year old boy and he could handle this.
The other boy shifted awkwardly next to him. "So--" he began, but then stopped haltingly, as if trying to figure out what exactly to say in a "Sorry you looked like an idiot and fell over a pebble" sort of situation.
It was an opening though. All Gus had to do now was ask, just ask him to walk up the street with him and the comic was in the bag.
Just ask this kid who was kind of freaking him out. And who made fun of his lunchbox. And who hypothetically saw him crying.
He took in a deep breath. Easy as pie. All he to do was say something. Something. Anything. Anytime now. To the kid who could still potentially beat him up, and who was now starting to look at Gus peculiarly as the silence lengthened. But Gus couldn't tell if it was a good peculiar or a about-to-kick-you kind of peculiar, and Gus opened his mouth but couldn't get the words out--he was starting to panic--Oh God, just say something to the kid, c'mon--
"I might be an alien!" Gus blurted out, because yes, of course that's what would come out, not "Hello, my name is Gus," or something else slightly sane, like "I'm really not crying! Really!"
The boy glanced over at him sharply. "What?"
There was a moment where they just stared at each other, and Gus fought the urge once again to just throw his naked man lunchbox and run. Then the other boy started shaking--getting into his attack position? -- but this time the kid was laughing, and then smirking and then he jumped up from the curb with a bounce.
"I'm Shawn," the boy said as he slung his own backpack (with Optimus Prime on it, Gus noted enviously) over his shoulder. "Your hands okay? You live around here?
Gus marginally relaxed, muscles uncoiling, and here we go, it was all was in his reach. Round Two. He offered a tentative, "Yeah. And yeah, you know, I'm just up the street. I got ditched, and there're these cookies and a comic, see, could you--"
Shawn popped some gum in his mouth while Gus prattled on, and chewed thoughtfully before he said, "Ok," right in the middle of Gus' spiel. Then: "Wanna be friends?"
Gus, however, was still trying to tell about the cookies, made with chocolate, and sometimes little candy sprinkles, red and blue and soft from the oven, and by the time his brain caught up with his mouth, it was too late, he'd nodded, he'd sealed the deal.
But Gus had priorities, he had goals, and he wouldn't let a little thing like a sudden friendship with an absolute stranger get in the way of his cookie and comic quest.
So they started walking, and now Shawn was looking a little happier and a little hopeful, but his eyes were still red and Gus got that awful feeling again of helplessness. Surely, he would be able to think of something friend-like to say.
"So—" and Gus was screwing this up, stupid stupid alien heritage, "are you okay?"
The street had some yellowed leaves in it, the closest to a fall Santa Barbara would get, and Shawn kicked a few down the street as they walked before replying, "Yeah. My mom, and school and well—my dad is just—you know parents."
Gus nodded in what he hoped was a friendly manner.
They walked a few more steps and this was awkward, so awkward, before Gus finally said, "I don't think—I'm not an alien, you know. I'm Gus."
"Too bad." Shawn stomped on some leaves in a haphazard pattern that only he could recognize. "Aliens are awesome. Are you sure your hands are fine? You wanna go ride bikes off a ramp?"
"I --Wait, you have a bike ramp?" Gus replied jealously, slightly startled by the changes in conversation.
"Nope. You know how to make one?" The crunching of leaves punctuated Shawn's every word, and he was doing a crazy Super Boy look, the kind that made Gus' self-preservation instincts go, "Uh, hello, danger." This didn't bother Gus as much as it should have, considering he had only been in Santa Barbara one month and had known this kid for only 5 minutes and suddenly he had a friend, and was possibly losing his mind.
"No," he replied, and the other boy looked momentarily crestfallen before shrugging his shoulders, moving up the street at a quicker pace. So Shawn was a little weird. Okay, a lot of weird.
But honestly, Gus was weird too.
And he knew, he knew, he probably could build a ramp. He could go get a book and hard hats and he probably could find some planks in the garage.
Plus, Shawn said he thought aliens were cool right? So maybe after, Gus could be an alien, and so could Shawn, and they could plan an invasion, and it would be a really awesome invasion, full of spaceships and laser beams and Optimus Prime (and He-Man, but he wasn't telling Shawn that yet.) This had the potential to be seriously cool.
Shawn was about halfway down the street now, still smashing leaves in his own personal pattern, and Gus watched him go, weighing his options. On the one side, there was Shawn, Shawn who had seen him (hypothetically) cry and who wanted to build a potentially dangerous, life-threatening, rickety, dirt-and-bacteria-ridden device that no one in their right mind would actually use and that would probably collapse before a wheel even touched it.
On the other side, there was…well, not that. Gus could go home and read a comic book that he could already guess the ending of, and then later eat dinner and coordinate his dad's ties with his suits. (How many times had he told the man, no stripes with plaids.) Maybe look at that pottery kit his mom got him.
In the end, it wasn't even really a question.
"Shawn!" He cried as he ran to catch up. His mind was whirling-- he should probably stop and think this through more, but this was all so bizarre he figured that would only confuse things. He sprinted up the road, snagging Shawn by the shirtsleeve. The other boy turned around sharply, but Gus just grinned and said, " You know, I bet we could do it anyway."
" Yeah?" Shawn asked suspiciously. Gus nodded.
."Dude!" Shawn smiled widely, a sudden gust of wind swirling the leaves around him like a mad scientist. Gus again began to wonder just what exactly he had gotten himself into and where the first-aid kit was, but then Shawn started dragging him up the road, saying "Let's go, let's go! Just we have to promise one thing--"
"No mention of the crying ever, ever, again," Gus said. "No problem. Promise."