A/N: Thanks, everyone, for reviewing! Here's the, er, harrowing conclusion.
Shawn's nine years old when it happens. He and Gus are playing cards . . . it's so easy, spotting Gus's tells, that Shawn almost feels bad for winning all of his candy. Shawn knows he has him beat again—he's got a flush; Gus has maybe queens over fours—and he's about to bet two blue raspberry Airheads when the phone rings and Shawn freezes.
It rings once, twice, three times. Mom walks over to answer it, her fingers hesitating just slightly before she picks up the receiver. Shawn holds his breath when his mom doesn't speak. She doesn't speak for almost five years, it seems. Finally, she says, "Betty, calm down. You can still make a good pot roast without mushrooms."
Shawn remembers to breathe again. It's just a grown up problem then, nothing important. He can focus on what's really essential, the massive takeover of Gus's candy stash.
He opens his mouth to place his bet.
He bursts into tears instead.
It's the worst thing that's EVER happened to him. Really, he might as well just flee the country, dye his hair black, grow a beard, and maybe change his name to Azhmul or Alibabwa. There's certainly no way he can stay in Santa Barbara now, not after sobbing like a little girl in front of Gus, Gus, who's staring at him like's he grown a second head. His mouth has dropped open. Drawing flies, Dad would say.
Gus reaches out tentatively. "Shawn?" he asks, confused.
Shawn looks at Gus's hand and just cries harder.
Yup. Might as well kill himself now.
Gus, clearly, has come to the conclusion that this sudden display of waterworks can mean only one thing: his best friend is dying. He stands up and just barrels into the next room, yelling, "Mrs. Spencer! Mrs. Spencer!" at the top of his lungs. Mom glances over, hangs up on Betty and the Pot Roast Dilemma, and quickly ushers Gus out of the house so she can drag a sniffling Shawn to his least favorite place ever: The Couch.
Okay, maybe not least favorite place EVER. That campsite Dad dragged him to last summer, with all its trees and nature and rabid, flesh-eating raccoons . . . that's a place of true evil. At least The Couch doesn't have beady little eyes. But Shawn hates these impromptu "therapy" sessions, wishes his mother didn't always feel the need to talk through every . . . single . . . thing. If she's not going to help him move out of the country or at least have the decency to smother him with his own Judd Nelson pillow, then he'd rather just pretend that nothing ever happened.
But Mom won't go for this. She promises not to tell Dad about the sobfest (a promise she clearly later breaks, but Shawn forgives her because he always forgives her) if he'll only open up to her, tell her what made him cry in the first place. Shawn's a little surprised that she has to ask. He saw how she hesitated, how she always hesitates now, before she picked up the phone, knowing who it could be, what it could mean. He dreams about it sometimes. His memory of that day is perfect.
It makes for surround sound nightmares.
Lion-O is on TV. Even in his sleep, Shawn is riveted, ignoring the phone as it rings once, twice, three times. Every detail is perfect. His mother's gasp as she picks up the phone, how she turns away and then turns back, that awful, broken smile plastered on her face. The smell of snickerdoodle cookies. She'd been baking them. Her voice cracks when she says, "We have to go the hospital now, Goose." Her bare feet SLAP SLAP SLAP against the tile as she walks to him. They leave the house. He's still in his pajamas. Mom doesn't remember to turn off the oven.
It's supposed to turn out okay. Dad's supposed to have a mild concussion and come home after he strong arms the doctors into giving him the all-clear status that he demands. Mom's supposed to drive them home, discover the oven, and make an unconvincing joke about burning the house down. It's supposed to be quiet and strange. It's supposed to be scary . . . but okay.
In his dreams, his memory twists, and it just ends up being scary instead.
Dad isn't complaining about the doctors when they get there. Dad isn't complaining about anything at all. His head isn't bloody; his stomach is, and he's lying on a gurney at the end of a corridor. The doctors are working over him, but it's clear they can't do much. Dad's stomach is this red and squishy mess. Shawn, now alone, stares at him from ten feet away.
Dad stares at him and then stares through him and then he's gone and Shawn wakes up.
This isn't the way it really happened, but it's the way it could have been, Shawn knows.
Mom wraps her arms around Shawn, pulls him close to her chest and rocks him. He's way too old for this, he knows, but he doesn't pull back, not today. "Your father's fine," she tells him gently. "He can take care of himself. There's nothing to be scared of."
But Mom sounds a little like she's talking to herself, and Shawn can read her tells, almost as easily as he can read Gus's. He sees her hands tremble when the telephone starts to ring. He hears her fight with Dad when he's supposed to be asleep. He hears her crying, muffled, through the bathroom door at night. He knows that she dreams too.
Shawn knows how to make it stop.
But when Dad comes in, later that night, to talk to him about what happened, he won't listen as Shawn asks him, begs him, to quit his job. Dad says that innocent people could die if he wasn't around to protect them. He says it like that's the end of the discussion, like it's the only thing that matters. But it doesn't matter to Shawn anymore, about those other people—they aren't more important than him, than his mom. His mom's been CRYING because of this. And Shawn—he doesn't want to dream those things, to see those things anymore inside his head. It's not really about the girl, he knows. It's not really about seeing her on that gurney, that bloody mess her stomach had been. He's not really dreaming about her. He barely dreams about Scary Sherry, these days. He just wants his dad to be safe. He wants his dad and his mom and his best friend to be safe, and that's really all that matters, isn't it? Besides becoming a Karate Kid, that is.
Dad doesn't seem to think so. Dad gets pretty angry, and he starts talking about responsibility again, what it means for others to depend on you. He talks about duty and justice and a whole bunch of other things that Shawn's pretty sure have nothing to do with what HE's talking about. But Dad doesn't listen to Shawn, never has. He says, "You're going to be a cop someday, kid. And a reality of the job is that, sometimes, people are going get hurt.
Shawn's nine when he says, for the first time, that he's never going to be a cop.
Come on Shawn don't play sometimes people are going to get hurt are you dying hold on would it kill you to say something I'm never going to be a cop Dad I don't want to go swimming it's too cold how many hats Shawn I don't care how many hats I don't care can you hear me look at me Shawn say something how many hats Shawn how many hats Shawn how many hats Shawn how many—
There are no hats.
Shawn glances around, blinking heavily at his surroundings. There aren't any hats, he realizes, not quite sure why he thought there would be. He's having trouble remembering much (get a godamn ambulance . . . hold on . . . I want out) but he's too tired to worry about it, too tired to put the pieces together. He has other things to figure out: for instance, where the hell he is. There are clues here. He's good at clues. His Dad made sure of that. His Dad's here, asleep, cramped up in a teeny little chair. There's a fishing magazine in his lap. It's creased heavily. Read over and over. Dad's been waiting . . . what has he been waiting for? Shawn glances around the room again. White walls. White sheets. White floor. Things sticking out of his arm. An IV pump. Medicine. Narcotics.
That, at least, seems familiar, that feeling of weightlessness . . .had he been swimming? (It's too cold to go swimming.) He can't remember. There's too much. But clearly he's floating on something right now, something fuzzy and warm and awesome . . . pretty much everything feels awesome right now. He's awesome. The whole world's awesome. His brain is totally awesome, maybe a little sticky, but it has awesome powers of awesomeness, and he wholeheartedly trusts in those mental powers to figure this situation out for him. Think awesome brain think, Shawn thinks. He's thinking about thinking. That's pretty funny. White walls and IV pump and sweet, sweet goodness . . . one plus one plus one . . .
Always equals morphine.
Shawn laughs at his own cleverness and his father stirs at the sound.
"Henry," Shawn says, smiling. "Hey, Henry. Time to wake up, kiddo. No sleeping."
His dad opens his eyes, blinks once, and then nearly falls out of his chair. It cracks Shawn up. The fishing magazine goes sliding somewhere under Shawn's bed. Dad doesn't even try to retrieve it. "Shawn!"
"You yell a lot," Shawn observes. His eyelids are pretty heavy. He doesn't know how much he slept, but clearly, it wasn't enough. Dad always wants him to get up too early. Shawn detests anything early. Early bird gets the worm? That may be, but then the afternoon hunter shoots the bird and taxidermies the horrible thing and sticks it on the wall, so, clearly, early isn't everything.
Shawn closes his eyes. "Shouldn't do that," he murmurs. "Yelling . . . it messes up your . . . chi . . ."
"Shawn! Shawn, stay awake for a minute, kiddo. Shawn? Come on, kid, please."
Shawn's eyes flutter open. It's the please that gets his attention . . . not that his Dad can't say please . . . . just . . . he usually sounds like his teeth have been clenched together with super glue when he does. He's not gritting his teeth now, but he really is all up in Shawn's personal space, which he's sure they've talked about. Normally, that kind of thing would annoy him. Right now, though, he kind of finds it endearing. Shawn sticks out a finger and touches the side of his Dad's nose. "You've got a freckle," he discovers. "Right . . .there!" Freckles are pretty funny. He never realized how funny freckles were before today. It's starting to hurt just a little to laugh, but not too much. Anyway, he doesn't have a whole lot of options here. His dad has a freckle. His dad . . . and a freckle . . .
Dad smiles a little, which should be kind of creepy . . . is kind of creepy, actually, but Shawn's too busy giggling to get worked up over it. "You're high as a kite, kid."
Shawn glances down at the IV in his left arm. "You know," he says, "I think you may be right." And he starts laughing again. This time, he's feeling it a little more in his gut, which probably isn't a great sign. If he's this high, surely, he shouldn't be feeling anything at all. He winces, closes his eyes, and tries not to worry about it. "What happened?" he asks, because he's curious now. You get curious about that kind of thing. He should know; he knows he should know . . .
Don't play, Shawn. Come on.
Maybe he doesn't want to know.
He expects Dad to lecture him, but all Dad does is sigh. "You got shot, kid," Henry says, and Shawn can't quite remember that.
How many hats, Shawn?
Four. That, at least, Shawn remembers. There were four hats. He can see them now. Motel guests walking by, an A's cap, a cowboy hat, a Padres hat, and a Fedora . . . who wore a Fedora in Santa Barbara, anyway; what was this, a mafia convention? Tears. He remembers tears. He doesn't know if he'd been crying or not, but someone else had been, crying down his neck. He has the sneaking suspicion it had been Gus. Well, who else could it have been? He remembers his stomach hurting, hurting a lot, until it just suddenly didn't. He remembers Lassiter's shoes, shiny and black. He remembers Juliet gasping and the color of his blood.
He remembers his father's voice, which hadn't really been there.
He doesn't remember getting shot.
He can see the gun now, can see the Bad Guy pulling it from his jacket. He doesn't see why he didn't react faster. He doesn't remember hearing the shot. You never hear the shot that kills you. He doesn't remember feeling the bullet.
Shawn doesn't remember, but his awesome brain with its awesome powers knows how to put the clues together. He can always put the clues together.
Super Cop Dad made sure of that.
"Oh," Shawn says, shuddering a little. "Yeah. That."
Dad clearly hasn't had his morning coffee yet. "That's it? That's all you have to say? Just, oh. Yeah. That." His impression of Shawn is horrible, but he doesn't give Shawn the chance to call him on it. He starts pacing around the room. "What the hell were you thinking, Shawn?"
"Clearly, I was thinking of getting shot," Shawn snaps, "cause it sounded like so much fun." Dammit, now he's losing his buzz. His dad can even take the fun out of morphine.
"Don't start, Shawn. Don't start. Dammit, you never think about the consequences of your actions. You just jump right in, assume everything's going to be fine. Well, it's not fine, Shawn. You got hurt this time. Next time you could be dead. You were lucky you didn't die."
"It may not mean anything to you, but there are people who care about you, people who are going to have show up to your funeral when one of your stupid, jackass stunts gets you killed one day."
"How do you think I felt, when I got the call that my son had been shot, that the doctors were doing everything they could, but that I needed to be realistic? How do you think I felt then, huh?"
Shawn doesn't say anything.
Dad turns away and laughs a little, shaking his head as he looks out the window. "I've been waiting for that call my whole life," he says. "I've been waiting for someone to tell me that one of the ridiculous things that my son has done has finally gotten him killed, that this time, he's not coming back, that I've lost my only child. Do you have any idea what that's like, Shawn? Well, of course not, because you've never had to be responsible for anything in your whole life—"
"Excuse me," Shawn says, sitting up and furious now. "But I know exactly what that's like."
"Oh, you do?" Dad spreads his arms wide, a mockery of a welcoming gesture. It matches the bitterness in his smile. "Well, please, Shawn. Enlighten me."
So Shawn does. "It's when your nine years old," he says, "and you're watching Thundercats on TV, and your mom has to tell you that your dad's in the hospital, that there's been some kind of shooting—"
Dad turns away from him suddenly, arms crossing as he glares out the window. Shawn can see his reflection in the glass, impatience and disgust written into every feature. "Oh, please, Shawn," Dad says, but Shawn's not letting him get away with that. He sits up straighter in the hospital bed. His body is none too happy with the arrangement. The pain which, so far, has been merely teasing its full potential, suddenly just blooms into being, cutting straight through the morphine and exploding in his stomach. (He thinks things have burst inside of him. Balloons. Red balloons.) His vision whites out for a second. He grips the handrails with both hands.
His sudden intake of breath is jagged, and Dad's back in his personal space by the time he can see again.
"Shawn—" Dad says, but Shawn shakes his head. He's not losing this one, dammit.
"It's when your dad's a cop," Shawn says, in between harsh, unsteady breaths. "And whenever the phone rings, every time the phone rings, you know it could be the call, the one saying your dad's been killed in a drug heist or trying to stop a bank robbery or in the middle of a car chase. You know, and you have to watch your mother know it every time the phone rings too."
"Shawn—" Dad says again, but Shawn isn't going to hear it.
"It's knowing that your dad cares more about his stupid job than he ever did about his family, even when his wife tells him that he needs to stop, even when his kid begs him to finally stop—"
Shawn's hands are gripping the side rails so hard that his arms are shaking. He can literally feel the color draining from his face. The sweat on his forehead feels cold and clammy.
"Enough, Shawn!" Dad says. "Enough," and Shawn doesn't have much choice. He lets go and slumps back to the mattress, all his energy and fury drained straight from him. Dad steps toward him, like he's going to give him a hug, or wants to anyway, but instead he starts towards the door. "I should get a doctor," he says, not looking at Shawn. "I'll be—"
But Shawn doesn't want to hear that, that he'll be right back, that he has to go, and he startles both of them by quickly reaching out and grabbing Dad's jacket sleeve. "Wait," he says, and he feels dizzy and burnt out and maybe just a little bit scared of being alone, even though there's no reason to be, even though The Bad Guy is deader than dead. "Wait, can't we just—can't you just—can't . . ."
He breaks off, frustrated, and looks away from his father. "Don't," he mutters, not wanting to see the expression in his Dad's eyes, disappointed, as always. "Just don't."
Shawn lets go of his Dad's sleeve, never looking up, until Dad finally says, "Okay," and sits back down in his teeny chair. He does hit the intercom button, though, and someone asks what he needs. Dad says that his son's awake and in pain. The person on the other line sounds bored. Shawn bets no one will be here for awhile.
"They said you were asking for me, kid," Dad says suddenly, while picking up his fishing magazine. "At the motel, they said you called for me."
Shawn risks a quick glance at him. "Delirious," he says, shrugging.
Dad smiles a little at that. "Yeah," he says. "That's what I said too." Shawn watches him flip through the magazine again. He wants to say something. He doesn't know what, but he wants to say something, give something, share something. He'd needed to see him so badly at the motel, and now he doesn't remember what he'd needed to say, what he can say, to ease this . . . this thing between them.
"There were four hats," he offers finally. "I saw four hats at the crime scene."
Dad clearly doesn't know what to do with that. Shawn can't blame him for saying nothing.
You were pretty scared, huh?
"I wasn't," he murmurs to himself.
Shawn turns slowly on his side. The pain in his stomach is a muted agony, but he ignores it. (He needs to see stuff. That's how he works.) "I wasn't scared," he says quietly. "I was . . . I was confused, but I wasn't scared."
"You were in shock," Dad says. He sounds angry again.
"I couldn't put the pieces together." Shawn shakes his head, trying to make his peace with that. He can't remember the guy pulling the trigger. He remembers thinking he bumped into the desk . . . but he doesn't remember how it felt now, the pain when the bullet must have entered his body. He can't remember the bullet entering his body. "I can't put the pieces together . . ."
"You almost died, kid," Dad says. Shawn looks at him. What was he supposed to say . . .
Henry snorts and looks away and they don't talk again until the nurse comes in. She flirts a little with Shawn, since Shawn's giving his best I'm-dying-but-aren't-I-charming-and-adorable smile. That is, until his Dad ruins it by saying how much pain he's in. His dad gets in the way of everything.
Nurse Cutie gets all professional after that. She doses him up with some more meds and soon she disappears, and Shawn can't feel much of anything. His vision is darkening again. He doesn't like it, doesn't want it. He has the strangest urge to try and find the pineapple. He glances around, and there are balloons and cards but no pineapples.
He doesn't want to go back to sleep, doesn't want to be pulled under and cold and drowning again. He doesn't like this feeling so much anymore, this medicated haze, darkness and numbness and loneliness. He needs to be able to look, to see the clues around him. He always looks, always. He needs to be able to see . . .
He's scared. He's really scared now.
The Bad Guy's dead, but he still shot Shawn; he broke the rules. Only Shawn's allowed to break the rules. He's sure he has that posted somewhere. He's sure it says somewhere that no one's supposed to shoot Shawn Spencer, that no one's supposed to get hurt, that everything's supposed to turn out okay.
But everything's not okay this time. Dad's right. Shawn got shot. He doesn't remember getting shot. He almost died. He almost didn't wake up.
He hopes he'll remember to wake up again.
Shawn can't open his eyes. He can't see anything but darkness, but he reaches out blindly for his dad's hand and whispers, "Don't go. Don't go."
He doesn't want to be alone.
He thinks he feels fingers squeezing his own fingers, lips pressed down against his forehead, tears-drip-dropping on his skin.
I love you, his Dad says, but Shawn probably just dreams that.
A/N: I definitely plan to do a follow-up to do this eventually, but I'm still working out which direction I want to go. If anybody would like to see a sequel, though, I'd love to hear it.