"Best friends are the siblings God forgot to give us" – Anonymous
In the end, Gus had to stay in the hospital for four and a half weeks, all in all. The last week consisted of Gus constantly whining and complaining about wanting to be released. Everybody was relieved when the doctors finally deemed him well enough to go home again. Even Gus' mother could eventually be convinced that her son wasn't going to drop dead any second just because he was no longer under 24-hour supervision.
Billy flew back to Connecticut soon after Gus was released from the hospital, with the promise to be back for Christmas this year.
Three weeks after Gus' release from the hospital, the bruises and swelling had gone down at least in all visible places. His missing tooth had been replaced. The only visible sign of his injuries was the cane he still used, and the limp he had while walking. His leg was still in a brace, but he was allowed to put weight on it by now. Aside from that, everything seemed to be back to normal.
On first sight.
The trial against the four people who had nearly killed Gus was still months away. There was no reason to be thinking about them, or what they had done. Not until the trial brought that all up again, anyway.
But below the surface, not everything was as fine as it seemed. It wasn't always there, but there were moments when everything suddenly flared up again unbidden.
Shawn paid more attention to detail than most other people anyway. But ever since that attack in the office, he found himself watching everybody just a tad bit more closely, trying to look into their heads and see what they were up to. If somebody was staring at Gus for some reason – which had happened even more often while his tooth had not yet been replaced and the bruises had still been visible on his face – Shawn remembered their faces, their car plates, the way they moved, everything.
He couldn't help himself.
Gus had nearly died once, and he wouldn't let that happen again if there was anything he could prevent. Most of the times, Gus didn't notice, or if he did he didn't comment on it.
At times Shawn felt that he was getting paranoid about all this, beyond his ability to help it. A few days ago he had nearly lost it when somebody had called out a simple "Hey you!" after him an Gus in the empty and dark parking lot of the movie theatre. Shawn had found himself standing between Gus and the guy running towards them without conscious thought, his hands balled into fists in his pockets. As it turned out, the unknown shouter was a gangly teenager who had come running after them because Gus' keys had fallen out of his pocket.
A harmless enough situation, something Shawn wouldn't have spent just one thought on just a few weeks ago. And right now it was enough to freak him out. Enough to freak him out so much that Gus noticed, too.
Not that they talked about it. If there was one thing they didn't talk about, then it was that.
Shawn was ready and willing to talk about it if Gus wanted, but for as long as Gus didn't show any incentive to talk about what had happened, Shawn certainly wasn't going to bring it up.
It was a silent agreement.
And seeing that Gus didn't remember the actual attack, there didn't seem to be the need to break that agreement.
It was hard to tell how Gus was dealing with all this. On the outside he was behaving like he always did. Not that there was any need to behave any differently in his daily life. For the most part, Gus didn't. But Shawn had been Gus' friend for too long to ignore the subtle signs.
Like Gus dropping by.
Now, there was nothing that unusual to Gus dropping by. And since they had started working cases again they were hanging out with each other for most of their free time anyway, investigating and discussing things.
But it were the visits to Shawn's apartment in the evening that spoke volumes. The unannounced visits, because unannounced visits were a thing Burton Guster normally wasn't capable of. But it had happened at least once a week since his release from the hospital that Gus suddenly stood in front of Shawn's door without prior announcement. Depending on what time it was, he brought takeout food or a movie with him, which they ate respectively watched without talking about Gus' reason for dropping by.
It was the beer intake that was a dead sure indicator on Gus' mood. An evening visit accompanied by soft drinks meant that Gus was simply looking for some company. An evening with dinner accompanied by a beer meant that Gus was going to stay the night. And the thing was that Gus didn't stay because he had drunk a beer, he drank that one beer to have an excuse to stay.
But he made no attempt to talk about why he needed that excuse in the first place, and subtle probing didn't lead to anything, either. It was Gus' turn to start talking about it if he wanted to, and until he did all Shawn could do was wait.
Today was one of the evenings when Gus had dropped by to stay. There had been a Back to the Future marathon on TV, and they had silently watched Marty McFly and Doc Brown jump back and forth in time while wolfing down Chinese takeout. All in all, a good way to spend the evening, especially since Gus didn't mind Shawn's running commentary of the movies.
Gus's second bottle of beer remained half-full and went stale as a young Michael J. Fox battled the Wild West. Gus' alcohol intake had been little and slow enough over the entire evening so that theoretically he could have driven home on his own. But as the final credits rolled, he wordlessly accepted the blanket Shawn handed him and started to get comfortable on the sofa.
In all honesty Shawn didn't know what difference Gus saw that made him prefer staying on Shawn's sofa over staying in his own bed. It wasn't that Gus needed company for the entire night. But Shawn knew his friend well enough not to question it. Sooner or later Gus would start talking.
But obviously not tonight.
After making sure that Gus and his leg-brace had arranged themselves comfortably on the sofa, Shawn went into the bedroom, undressed down to boxers and t-shirt, and went to bed. Three movies in a row and Chinese takeout were taking their toll, and before he knew it, his eyes dropped close and he fell asleep.
Only to wake up what felt like mere minutes later, with his heart beating fast in his chest. Shawn didn't know what exactly it was that had woken him, but he threw back his blanket and got out of bed without wasting a conscious thought on it.
When he came into the living room, he could see Gus' silhouette on the sofa, sitting up with his head in his hands. The sound of heavy uncontrolled breathing made it clear that Gus was wide awake, but hadn't been for long. Shawn slowly stepped into the room and walked around the sofa.
Gus didn't look up as Shawn sat down on the sofa beside him and turned on a dim light. He was simply sitting there, the blanket a tangled mess around his waist with his braced leg sticking out awkwardly. His shoulders heaved as he struggled hard to get his breathing back under control.
So much for Gus not remembering anything.
So much for everything being just fine.
And now Shawn finally had the explanation why his friend had been loathe to stay home alone some days. If this happened regularly, Shawn could sympathize. He only wondered why it had taken him so long to notice it.
Unfortunately, there had been nothing in the handbook about what to do in this kind of situation.
"You all right, buddy?"
Which was the most stupid question, but it was all Shawn could think of at that moment.
Gus raised a hand away from his face and turned it towards Shawn, palm outward. The message was clear even without words. Shawn settled back and helplessly watched how Gus struggled for each breath, trying in vain to slow his breathing. But no matter how much Gus struggled, he couldn't stop his deep heaving gulps turning into sobs.
Shawn got up and went back into his bedroom. He took the blanket off the bed and returned into the living room. On his way to the sofa, he grabbed the remote, then he sat back down right beside Gus, who was still sitting in the same hunched position on the sofa with his head in his hands.
Gus still was struggling hard to keep back his sobs. Which was ridiculous, really. Shawn was sitting right beside him, it wasn't as if he was deaf and blind. But instead of saying anything, Shawn wordlessly pulled his blanket over his legs, and with the remote in his right hand he silently put his left hand on Gus' back, right below his shoulder blades.
Gus was tense, and Shawn could feel the tremors running through his muscles as he took one gulping breath after another. At least his breathing was coming a little easier now, and though his friend still had his face buried in his hands, Shawn picked up the remote and turned on the TV.
"I went a little crazy with the Tivo season pass this week. You have the choice between Wrestlemania or a Married with Children marathon."
After a second, Gus lifted his face from his hands and turned slightly to stare at Shawn, and despite the reddened eyes his glare didn't lack any of its usual strength. Shawn shrugged and pushed a button.
"Wrestlemania it is then. Though I for the life of me don't understand your aversion against Al Bundy."
Gus just shook his head and leaned his head into his hands again as the TV screen flared to life.
By the time the first contestants had entered the ring, Gus started to shift around. Putting his braced leg up on the low table in front of the sofa he pulled his own blanket back over his legs. But he wasn't watching the action on the screen, he was looking down at his hands as he nervously twisted and kneaded his fingers. Shawn kept his eyes trained on the TV, but he wasn't really following the events at Wrestlemania, either. Not with Gus sitting just inches away, struggling with whatever it was that had torn him out of his sleep.
And it didn't take a genius to guess what Gus' nightmare had been about.
But they silently sat there, Shawn staring at the TV with his hand against Gus' back, and Gus staring down at his hands.
By the time the first championship fight of the night was about to start, Gus took a deep breath and straightened up.
"I still don't remember anything. Not while I'm awake, anyway. It's the dreams. I mean, I don't have those dreams every night, not by a long shot. And I can't really remember them. But…they're wearing me down, and I'm just so sick and tired of being afraid to fall asleep…"
Eyes trained on the TV in front of him and his hand against his friend's back, Shawn listened as Gus talked it all off his chest.
Sleep was overrated, anyway.
Thanks for reading. And one last time, please let me know what you think. Thanks a lot.