Epilogue: Three men, a boy and a dog

A bit more than two months had passed since Shawn had first caught Eric in the Psych office, and life was back to normal. Well, as normal as things ever got in the vicinity of Shawn Spencer.

That day at the station, Chief Vick and Lassiter had interviewed Eric's mother and stepfather for nearly six hours total. Both had gone over Eric's medical records with them, in detail, again and again. It hadn't taken long for the small observation room between the two interrogation rooms to fill with officers who had heard of what was going on and who didn't want to miss their Chief and Head Detective in action. The Chief's mood after the interview had been sour. Holly Robertson had finally confessed to not having stopped her husband from beating Eric, but according to her statement the beatings had been both, sporadic and for educational purposes. Eric had brought it upon himself with his constant disobediences. For the rest of the day, nobody had dared to approach the Chief in fear of being the spark that made her explode.

Lassiter's mood after his interview had been…unearthly. From another realm. So dark that black didn't cut it anymore to describe it. Stan Robertson had been far more resistant in his denial of ever having hit Eric, but especially after the scene Lassiter had witnessed in the restroom, denial hadn't been an option for long. The difference between what Robertson admitted to and what Eric had said in his statement was still large enough to fit in the Grand Canyon, but it was all Lassiter was able to get out of him without resorting to physical violence. And it was more than enough to have Child Protective Services take away custody from Eric's mother and stepfather immediately.

The next day, Lassiter came down with the flu.

Now, personally Shawn thought that a little fever was actually cleansing once in a while, but though he'd never admit it, he was quite glad that staying at his Dad's place with Eric gave him a good excuse not to go down to the police station for a while. He didn't really think Lassiter would shoot him. Not in broad daylight and in the middle of the police station, anyway. But there was no harm done in being careful.

And actually staying at his Dad's wasn't half bad. There was a lot less yelling involved while there was a kid around. Maybe Shawn should check into the possibility of having grandchildren in the near future, just for the sake of stopping his father from yelling. Or better yet, Gus could have the children, and Shawn could borrow them whenever he needed his father in a pacified mood. It still needed some thinking through, but Shawn saw some possibilities there.

It was Juliet who finally broke the news to Eric's father. As could be expected, Collin Redmond was shocked by the news, to say the least. He immediately remembered Holly Robertson and their affair from twelve years back, but from what Juliet told it had been obvious that he had never expected for a child to have come out of this short affair. So the first thing he had done had been demanding a paternity test. It had come back positive, and suddenly Collin Redmond, 34 years and just eighteen months divorced after a five year long, childless marriage, had found himself a father of an eleven year old boy.

More than once, Shawn had caught himself thinking what he would do if he was in Redmond's place. He'd like to tell himself that he'd be totally open-minded and prepared before such an occurrence, but truth be told, he'd probably be just as overwhelmed by all the implications as Redmond had been.

But after a day of getting used to the idea, Redmond had been ready and willing to take Eric in. It was far easier said than done. Shawn and Henry had both been there when Eric's father had come for the first meeting with his son, and it had been awkward. Not bad, but awkward. After all, what did you talk about with your son respectively father if you met them for the first time? Shawn had known his father all his life, and at times he found it hard to find something to talk about with him.

But it had gotten better with every meeting between the two, and after two weeks of making all the necessary arrangements, Child Protective Services had agreed that nothing stood in the way of transferring Eric into his father's care.

Eric had called a couple of times after that, to tell how he was settling in, and he had sounded pretty optimistic that things were working out.

And pretty soon, real life had caught up with Shawn again. There was of course the plan to meet up with Eric again, and sooner rather than later, but as Henry had pointed out and Shawn had grudgingly agreed, it might be best to give Eric and his father some time to get used to one another first. Eric knew that he could always call Shawn if anything was wrong, so giving the two a couple of weeks to get used to each other didn't sound like a bad idea.

By the time Eric moved in with his father, Shawn could sleep on his back again. Which was a good thing, because he was sure that after two weeks of sleeping the whole night on his right side, his shoulder had left a permanent indentation on his father's sofa. He'd rather not have that happening with his own mattress.

But while his back might be healed, his left shoulder was another story entirely. The world's biggest bruise was changing its colour daily, and it took four whole weeks until he could move his left arm again without being immediately reminded of the mother of all bruises.

Around that time Shawn and Gus got their first case form Chief Vick again and real life was catching up again with them. Though Shawn was fairly sure that the first time he and Lassiter met again, the head detective's glare was worse than usual, and his hand strayed uncomfortably close to his shoulder holster. But that could have been his imagination.

Since then Shawn and Gus had solved two more cases for the SBPD. Neither had been high profile, but they had both been easily solved and not dangerous, for a change.

And now Shawn and Gus were sitting in the office, and while Gus was catching up on what he still insisted on calling his "first job", Shawn was flipping through the pages of the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated. It was a peaceful afternoon. Well, at least it started out as one.

"Shawn, have you seen my memory stick?"

Shawn looked up from his magazine to face Gus across the office. "Is that another cute little nickname for one of your body parts? The Memory Stick? Like the Super Smeller?"

"And how do you suppose that should work? I misplaced a body part and now I can't find it?"

Shawn shrugged. "Stranger things have happened. Like people giving nicknames to their noses, for instance."

Gus rolled his eyes with a sigh. "No, it's not one of my body parts. I'm searching for my flashdrive, Shawn. You know, the little stick you put into one of the USB ports of your computer to store files on them? I know it was here on my desk, and now it's gone."

"Maybe you should give the Super Smeller some exercise then, see if you can pick up a trace of your flashdrive."

"Shawn!"

Shawn raised his hands innocently. "What? I'm just trying to help here."

"Sure you are."

At that moment, there was a knock on the office door, breaking up the argument.

"Come in!", Gus called, and a moment later Collin Redmond came into the office.

"Collin", Shawn greeted, somewhat surprised. "Where's Eric? Is anything wrong?"

Collin shook his head with a smile. "Nothing's wrong. He's outside, taking Buster for a walk. I told him to stay within sight, though."
Shawn turned his chair and truly, out of the large window he could see Eric on the beach promenade, an enthusiastic young Labrador tugging at the leash in his hand, his other hand holding a still empty clear plastic baggie.

Shawn grinned. "Seems as if those two hit it off."

Collin was still watching his son through the window. "Yeah, they for sure did. I can't tell you how glad I am that I didn't say no when my friend Chris gave me one of his puppies a couple of months back. By now, Eric has replaced me as Buster's alpha male and there's not a thing I can do about it." There was a smile on his face as he said the words. As he tore his gaze away from his son and looked back at Shawn, his expression turned a little more serious.

"Anyway, the reason why I asked Eric to stay out for a few more minutes is that I wanted to talk to you."

Shawn frowned, but gestured towards the chair in front of his desk. "Sure. Sit down, Collin. What's up?"

Collin sat down and nervously twisted his hands. "What with all that's been going on when we first met, I never got around to thank you."

Shawn waved the thanks off. "No need to thank me for anything, really."

"Yes, I think there is Shawn. Not everybody would have done what you did for Eric. I'm only slowly getting used to the idea that I even have a son. There are days when I still wake up and ask myself whether I only dreamed it up or not. And if it hadn't been for you, I'd probably still not know that Eric ever existed. You saved his life, I'm not going to forget that."

Shawn shook his head again. "I'm glad I could help Eric. It's good to see that he's enjoying himself again."

"Yes, that he is. At least when he's out with Buster."

"And how is the rest working out?"

Collin shrugged. "We're getting there. Slowly, but I didn't expect anything else. Eric is seeing a trauma specialist once a week, and she told me that he's starting to open up. Though it might still be a while until he trusts me enough to talk about what that bastard of a stepfather did to him. But we're doing well enough on the everyday stuff so far. Eric started school two weeks ago, and he already hates his math teacher, which tells me he's starting to settle in. He's playing basketball at school and is starting to make friends. Sometimes it's hard though. Just a few days ago he dropped a plate as he helped me with the dishes. Next thing I know, he's putting up his hands as if to protect himself from the blows he expects to follow. It's…not exactly easy to deal with." He shook his head and smiled. "But we have help, that makes it easier. There's his therapist, and a great lady from Social Services who doesn't treat me like a total imbecile if I have a question about how to raise my kid." He shrugged. "It's not easy, but I think we're getting there. I'm just worried about what'll happen once we have our first fight. I think I'm a little scared he might run away again."

Shawn shook his head. "I don't think he will. It took him eleven years to run away from a man who was abusing him, I don't think he'll run away from somebody who treats him right just because of a fight. And he knows he can always call Gus, my Dad or me if there is anything bothering him. So I wouldn't worry about it too much."

Collin smiled. "I'm starting to learn that worrying is a big part of being a father." He chuckled. "That and knowing how to cook. Surviving on takeout is over now."

"The kid loves greens and sprouts, it's scary."

Collin laughed. "Yeah, that it is. But he's also not averse to pizza, so I'm still getting by while I'm learning how to cook healthy food." He looked out the window again to see Eric approaching the office, dog still on the leash but now without the plastic baggie. "But here he comes. I promised I let him tell you why we dropped by."

A moment later the door opened again and Eric came hurrying in, the dog pulling him right towards Gus' desk. Gus immediately rolled his chair back and raised his arms defensively.

"Whoa!"

"Don't worry, he doesn't bite", Collin threw in from the side.

"Famous last words", Gus mumbled and kept his distance even as Eric pulled the leash.

"Buster, sit!"

The Labrador obediently sat down by Eric's feet, and with a proud grin the boy looked up at Shawn and Gus.

"Hey Shawn, hey Gus!"

"Eric, how are you?", Shawn said as he got up from his chair and walked over towards the boy. There was a universal code between men everywhere, no matter if they were boys or grown up, and that was that hugging was reserved for moments of emotional distress and awkward celebratory back-patting. So he silently stretched out his fist and with a grin Eric bumped his own fist against it.

"I'm good. How's the shoulder?"

Shawn stretched the collar of his polo with a finger to reveal part of the bruising, which by now had taken on a mostly greenish-yellow shade. Eric grimaced.

"Gross. Is that normal? Looks as if it was rotting."

"Eric", Collin said good-naturedly, but Shawn just shrugged.

"Doctor says it's normal. But I've been keeping a bruise diary with my camera. I took a picture of the bruise every day, I'm thinking about making a flip-book once it's finished. I'm going to send you a copy once it's finished, but that might still take a little while. For now, I'm still storing pictures."

He picked up a little device from his desk and waved it in front of Eric for demonstration.
"Hey, that's my flashdrive!", Gus threw in from the side.

"Is it? Really? So that's what a flashdrive looks like. Wow, I never knew."

"Shawn, my client files are on that flashdrive. If you've erased something, I swear, you're dead meat."

Shawn rolled his eyes. "I haven't erased anything, Gus. Really. Trust me. I've just compressed some files, but it's all safe. At least that's what the site from which I downloaded the compressing programme said. By the way, what does it mean if that little symbol-thingie from the virus check starts flashing red?"

"Shawn!" Gus got up from his chair, murder in his eyes.

Shawn decided to change tactics and turned back towards Eric. "Collin said you wanted to tell us something?"

Eric's grin widened. "Yes. It's my birthday on Saturday, and we're going to have a barbeque. Some guys from my new school will be there, and it's be great if you guys would come, too. And your Dad. And if you want, you can bring that lady-cop."

Shawn frowned. "Why do you think I'd want to bring Juliet?"

Eric rolled his eyes as if he was forced to explain the obvious. "Because you like her."

Gus snorted, but managed to turn it into a cough as Shawn threw a withering glare into his direction.

"We'll be there, Eric. And I'll tell my Dad, I'm sure he'll come, too. It's not as if he was on a tight schedule. What time shall we come around?"

"At four."

"Sure." Shawn smiled. "We'll be there. However, I cannot guarantee that Gus won't be paralysed with fear of the bloodhound for the entire day."

"Shawn!"

Shawn ignored his best friend. "So we'll see you Saturday."

"Great!" Eric's smile widened and he held out his fist again. Shawn bumped it and ruffled across Eric's hair. It was obvious that the eleven year old was trying to bear that with as much dignity as he could, but still he grimaced. Shawn just grinned.

"Right", Collin said. "We have to go, otherwise you'll miss basketball training. I'll see you two on Saturday, then. And thanks again, for everything."

"You're welcome. See you Saturday."
"Yes, see you Saturday." Gus added.

"Buster, come on", Eric said, and quickly followed the enthusiastic Labrador out of the office, his father in tow.

Shawn looked after them for a moment, and as the two got into their car and pulled out of the parking lot, he turned towards Gus.

"Buster."

Gus frowned. "What?"

"Buster. I'm wondering why I never came up with that one."

Gus still didn't understand. "Shawn, you never had a dog. Or any animal you needed to name, for that matter."

Shawn rolled his eyes. "Not for a dog, Gus. For you."

"For me?"

"Yes. I mean, come on. Burton Guster…Buster. Guster the Buster. Oh man, what a fun I could have had with that one in high school."

"You had plenty of fun at my expense in high school, you didn't need to make fun of my name for that. And don't think I've forgotten about you stealing my flashdrive. Give it back right now and pray that you haven't lost any of the files for good."

Shawn only shook his head. "We have other problems right now."

"Oh yes? And what should those be?"

"We need to find a birthday present for Eric." Quickly, Shawn grabbed Gus' keys from his friend's desk and turned towards the door. "Come on Buster, we're on a mission!"

Gus rolled his eyes and quickly hurried out of the office after his friend.